W. Willard Wirtz

  • For W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the Silent Majority of the 1960s had less to do with law-and-order Americans than it did with the nation's haves and have-nots. And throughout his two decades of public life, Wirtz took up the cause of the have-nots, as he prodded the well-off Establishment to embrace the plight of the downtrodden. Wirtz, who died April 24 at 98, achieved such a prolific legislative record that the current Secretary of Labor, Hilda M. Solis, referred to him as LBJ's general in the War on Poverty. His major policy accomplishments included pilot training programs for the unemployed, a concerted push for the Civil Rights Act to be applied in the workplace and the passage of 1967's Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Such efforts went well beyond the standard mediation docket of the Labor Department. The last surviving member of Kennedy's cabinet, Wirtz was the first of Johnson's to publicly call for an end to the bombing of North Vietnam.