William Hans Press, 84, who was executive vice president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade for 30 years before retiring in 1971, died yesterday at Carriage Hill nursing home in Bethesda after a heart attack.
He was much more than his title indicated. While Board of Trade presidents change about every year, the executive vice president is the permanent administrative head of the organization.
Mr. Press, as executive vice president, was a brilliantly effective spokesman for Washington's business establishment. A skilled and honorable representative to the news media and community, his real strength was in his seemingly limitless knowledge of the workings of Capitol Hill.
Over the years, the dapper, genial and hard-working figure with the trademark mustache could be found guarding the interests of business and the city on Capitol Hill.
Washingtonian magazine once called Mr. Press as a man with "his finger on what is happening in Washington." It also cited his "rakish charm" and "utmost discretion."
Mr. Press may be best remembered as probably the leading Washington figure opposing home rule for the District. He and the board maintained oppostion to home rule during his years as executive vice president. The board came out in favor of home rule after Mr. Press retired.
The Washington Post wrote in a 1973 article that "many people credit or blame him with almost singlehandedly defeating a home rule measure that seemed a sure thing, with President Johnson's backing, to pass the House in 1965."
Mr. Press and the board worked to promote the city's cultural and economic life. He spearheaded projects promoting employment, education and economic development. He also was a leader in promoting the lightning growth of Washington's tourism and convention industries.
He also worked with area merchants and bankers on projects to revitalize the riot corridors of 1968 and assist small merchants whose businesses had been damaged or destroyed.
Mr. Press served as president of the Historical Society of Washington and the D.C. Society for Crippled Children. He also served on the boards of the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs and the Washington Consortium of Universities. He helped organize and direct the Supreme Court Historical Society and was a founder and past president of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives
Mr. Press, who was a native and resident of Washington, was a graduate of McKinley High School. After graduating from the University of Maryland in 1928, he worked in private business and spent a year with the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce before joining the staff of the Board of Trade in 1935. He became executive vice president in 1941.
During World War II, he served with the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington and was awarded the Legion of Merit and achieved the rank of lieutenant commander.
In retirement, he served as vice president and board chairman of the Historical Society of Washington and worked as a consultant. In 1973, Mr. Press was appointed by President Nixon to a six-year term as chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission.
In April 1990, during the Board of Trade's centennial celebration, he was named the board's "man of the years."
His hobbies included collecting Washington memorabilia, gardening and antique collecting.
Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Mary Press, and a daughter, Christine Press, both of Washington; an adopted son, Charles Russell Miller of Norfolk; five grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.