Edward F. Prichard Jr., an intellectual prodigy of the 1930s and a man whose admirers envisioned him in the White House some day, died Sunday night at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Lexington, Ky., just a month before his 70th birthday.
His brilliance and social charm captivated two generations of academicians, politicians and journalists. His stoicism in the face of personal tragedies won their admiration.
Washington in the 1930s was a city of great intellectual ferment and creativity, a place populated by social and economic reformers, political philosophers and many of the best academic minds in the nation. They were the "brain trust" of the New Deal.
In this company, Mr. Prichard was a star. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. remembered him as "a man of dazzling brilliance." Joseph L. Rauh, the Washington lawyer who was a founder of Americans for Democratic Action, has recalled that among all the "brain-trusters," the "two men most likely to succeed, to become president of the United States, were Philip Graham the late publisher of The Washington Post and Ed Prichard."
Graham's widow, Katharine Graham, board chairman of The Washington Post Co., described him a few years ago as "the most impressive young man of our generation, the one who dazzled us most." She described him yesterday as a "great human being" who "gave great service to Kentucky and to the country."
Mr. Prichard came out of Bourbon County, Ky., at the age of 16 to enroll at Princeton University, where he compiled a distinguished academic record and edited the student newspaper. He was a portly, unathletic young man who read books voraciously and seemed to memorize them all.
From Princeton, he went on to Harvard Law School, studied under Felix Frankfurter and became Frankfurter's law clerk after his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Over the next decade, Mr. Prichard held many positions in the Roosevelt administration -- with the Justice Department, the old War Production Board and the Treasury Department. At the age of 30, he was a White House assistant to President Roosevelt.
With the end of World War II, he returned to Kentucky, where it was universally assumed he would soon be governor or a U.S. senator. But in 1948, on a wild and inexplicable impulse, he stuffed 243 fraudulent ballots into boxes at 11 precincts. He was convicted of the crime and spent five months in the federal penitentiary at Ashland, Ky., before being pardoned by President Harry Truman.
Many years later he said: "Why did I do it? Well, men before and after Richard Nixon excused themselves by saying, 'I did what everyone else had done.' I'm not going to say that. At least, I won't use it as an excuse. An explanation, maybe, but not an excuse. I did it. It was wrong, and I know it was wrong. . . . I thought of it as something you did for fun. It was sort of a moral blind spot."
During his slow political rehabilitation in the years that followed, he was often attacked by political opponents as a "criminal." A. B. (Happy) Chandler called him a "jailbird" in the 1959 gubernatorial primary when Mr. Prichard supported Chandler's opponent. Mr. Prichard replied in a now legendary speech: "It is true that I was an inmate at the federal penitentiary. I lived with rapists, murderers, thieves and embezzlers. But I tell you, my friends, that every one of those men was the moral superior of A. B. (Happy) Chandler."
Over the last 20 years, Mr. Prichard's rehabilitation was completed. He counseled governors, held appointive offices and, in recent years, was a major figure on a state commission for educational reform in Kentucky. His law practice flourished, despite his blindness brought on by diabetes. He also had kidney failure. His death followed several operations and internal bleeding.
His political and legal achievements contributed to his large reputation. But it was as a conversationalist that he is best remembered by many of his friends. He could sit for hours, hands clasped over his large stomach, eyes half-closed, telling political stories, mimicking politicians, expounding on philosophy, literature and history.
Survivors include his wife, Lucy Elliott Prichard, and three sons, Allen, Nathan and Louis.