Philleo Nash, 77, commissioner of Indian Affairs in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, a former adviser on minority affairs to President Truman and the first president and founder of Georgetown Day School in Washington, died of cancer Oct. 12 at a hospice in Marshfield, Wis.
Dr. Nash, an anthropologist who specialized in minority group problems, was also a former lieutenant governor of Wisconsin and a former State Democratic Party chairman there.
After resigning as commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1966, he remained in Washington to operate a consulting business and direct a program at American University for students with special educational needs. In 1977, he returned to Wisconsin to manage a family business, the Biron Cranberry Co. at Biron.
He first came to Washington in 1942 as a special assistant for domestic operations to Elmer Davis, the director of the Office of War Information. In that capacity he reported and analyzed racial tensions and helped write and edit several government publications on minority groups and problems in the armed services.
After the war, Dr. Nash became a special assistant to Truman. His duties involved acting as White House liaison for minority group issues with a variety of government boards and agencies.
Dr. Nash was born in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., and he graduated from the University of Wisconsin. He received a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Chicago. His doctoral thesis was on the Klamath Indian ghost dances, which he analyzed as a reflection of the tribe's shock at its first contact with whites.
In researching the thesis, Dr. Nash lived on the Klamath reservation in Oregon for a year during the 1930s.
Before moving to Washington he was a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Toronto and at the University of Wisconsin.
While he was working on minority issues at the Office of War Information here, Dr. Nash was also becoming increasingly uncomfortable at the racial segregation required by law in the city's public schools. With a group of other Washington parents he founded one of the first racially integrated schools in the Washington area, Georgetown Day School, a parent-owned cooperative that opened with seven children in 1945. Dr. Nash was president of the school from 1945 to 1952.
While serving as a minority affairs specialist in the Truman White House, he helped write the final report of the President's Committee on Fair Employment Practices, and he was the primary White House contact with the President's Committee on Civil Rights and with government committees working to end racial segregation in the Armed Forces and to eliminate racial discrimination in the Civil Service.
Near the end of his White House service, Dr. Nash became the target of an attack by Wisconsin's Red-baiting Republican Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, who charged Dr. Nash was a communist. Dr. Nash called the accusation "a contemptible lie."
He returned to Wisconsin after Eisenhower was elected president in 1952, headed the State Democratic Committee and in 1958 was elected lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by Gaylord A. Nelson. In 1960 he backed Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.) in the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary, and he toured the the state with his guitar singing campaign songs on Humphrey's behalf.
Dr. Nash was reelected to a second two-year term as lieutenant governor in 1960, but then resigned to become commissioner of Indian Affairs in September 1961.
As commissioner, Dr. Nash was responsible for the health, education and economic well being of about 350,000 American Indians, and he took office with the intent of promoting a program of economic self-sufficiency among the Indians. He resigned five years later amidst reports that Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall was dissatisfied with the the program's pace.
Dr. Nash is survived by his wife of 52 years, Edith Rosenfels Nash of Wisconsin Rapids, who served as director of Georgetown Day School in the 1960s and 1970s; two daughters, Sally Nash of Rappahannock County, Va., and Maggie Kast of Chicago, and four grandchildren.