James E. Webb, the hard-charging and immensely capable administrator who was head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration from 1961 to 1968, died March 27 at Georgetown University Hospital after a heart attack. He had Parkinson's disease.
Mr. Webb, 85, had a long career in both public service and private industry. During the Truman administration, he served as director of the Budget Bureau and as an undersecretary of state. He also had been a deputy governor of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
After spending the Eisenhower years in private industry, he was asked to become chief of NASA by Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Though reluctant to take the post -- he thought an engineer or scientist might be a better choice -- he eventually accepted.
He took over an agency that was in its administrative infancy. Established in 1958, the agency almost literally aimed for the stars. His first mandate, which he received from President Kennedy, was to put a man on the moon. Though he stepped down as administrator a year before Apollo touched down on the lunar surface, he was universally credited with laying the groundwork for that epic event.
Mr. Webb was chosen administrator for his management skills and his political sophistication. At NASA, he was perhaps more admired than loved, gaining a reputation for bullheadedness, and he seemed to relish keeping the staff somewhat off-balance, a management technique he called "planned disequilibrium."
He reined in NASA administrators and scientists alike, gaining a legendary mastery over small details. When called before congressional committees, he tended to bury them in loud and fast-talking testimony and seemingly endless streams of data. He needed more than a few of these talents to preside over an agency that came to include 35,000 staff members and about 400,000 contractors from 20,000 companies.
Mr. Webb explained some of his management techniques to a Washington Post reporter in a 1981 interview. He said that when he joined NASA, as a lifelong Democrat and agency outsider, he had to work with two deputies. One, Hugh Dryden, had been head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; the other, Robert Seamans, had been named to the office by the Eisenhower administration.
He told The Post, "We needed to work together, so here's what I decided: No policy would be approved for NASA until the three of us had talked it over. None of us would do violence to the strongly held opinions of the other. This was a policy which intentionally put us in chains. We bound ourselves in these hoops of iron. Sure, I could have overruled them. I was the boss. But it wouldn't have worked that way."
His mastery over Congress and his agency reached the point where he could complain to Kennedy about one of his chief staff members and to President Lyndon B. Johnson about "your vice president," Hubert H. Humphrey, and come out the winner.
Though the agency grew by leaps and bounds and was one of those true rarities, a federal agency popular with both Congress and the public, he never took on the trappings of celebrity himself. He returned a limousine sent to him by the General Services Administration, riding around town in a trademark black Checker cab.
His darkest hour with NASA was probably Jan. 20, 1967, when three astronauts died on the launch pad in an Apollo craft. Mr. Webb spent the next several months answering critics, including congressional committees, on possible blame for the tragedy.
In 1968, he announced that he was retiring. At a September news conference, he deplored congressional budget cuts for NASA at time when the Soviet space program seemingly was growing. After leaving NASA, he undertook projects for the Smithsonian Institution and National Geographic.
James Edwin Webb, a native of North Carolina, graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1928 with a degree in education and a Phi Beta Kappa key. He studied law at George Washington University and was admitted to the D.C. Bar in 1936. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1930, received his wings the following year and spent part of World War II as a Marine flier.
From 1932 to 1934, he was secretary to Rep. Edward W. Pou (D-N.C.), chairman of the Rules Committee. Later in the 1930s, he worked for O. Max Gardner, a former North Carolina governor who was general counsel of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America. From 1936 to 1943, he worked for the Sperry Gyroscope Corp., becoming its vice president.
After World War II, he practiced law before serving as Budget Bureau director from 1946 to 1949 and undersecretary of state from 1949 to 1952. He then was a director of Kerr-McGee Oil Industries and McDonnell Aircraft, and president and board chairman of the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies before becoming NASA chief.
Survivors include his wife of 53 years, the former Patsy Aiken Douglas, of Washington; a son, James Jr., of Stockton, N.J.; a daughter, Sarah G. Webb of Santa Fe, N.M.; two brothers, Henry G., of Kensington, and John F. Webb Jr. of Oxford, N.C.; a sister, Olive Webb Wharton of Durham, N.C.; and a granddaughter.
Hairdresser and Waitress
Camille Privitera, 69, a retired hairdresser and waitress and a member of the parish of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Silver Spring, died of cancer March 28 at her home in Silver Spring.
Mrs. Privitera was born in Washington. She began working as a hairdresser about 1940. From 1966 to 1971, she owned Petite Hairstylists on Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda.
After 1971, she became a waitress. She retired in 1986 from the staff of the Colonial Room, a restaurant in the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Her marriage to Richard Celdran ended in divorce.
Survivors include three children, Frances DeLargo of Laurel, Richard Celdran of Lanham and Melissa Clay of Frederick, Md.; a sister, Josephine Krist of San Diego, Calif.; four brothers, Samuel Privitera of Rockville, Wilson John Privitera and Enrico Privitera, both of Silver Spring, and Alfio Privitera of Crofton; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Tom Kahn, 53, a retired international affairs director of the AFL-CIO who had long been active in labor, political and civil rights groups, died March 27 at his home in Silver Spring. He had AIDS.
He joined the AFL-CIO in 1973 as an assistant to President George Meany. Under its subsequent president, Lane Kirkland, he was an assistant and envoy abroad until becoming international affairs director in 1986. He had retired earlier this month on disability.
Upon learning of Mr. Kahn's death, Kirkland hailed him as an "incisive thinker and an effective advocate" for labor.
During his years with the unions, Mr. Kahn had helped coordinate support by the AFL-CIO for groups such as the Polish Solidarity group and striking Soviet miners.
He had addressed the founding convention of Hungary's free unions and advised other emerging free labor groups throughout eastern Europe.
He also had helped mount an outreach program, which included newsletters and a speakers bureau, to explain organized labor's foreign affairs programs to local officers of this country's labor groups. He also help direct the AFL-CIO Free Trade Union Institute.
Mr. Kahn, who settled in the Washington area in 1973, was a native of New York. He was a 1961 graduate of Howard University.
Before joining the AFL-CIO staff, he had marched for civil rights in the South, been active in the Young People's Socialist League and served as an organizer during the early days of the Students for a Democratic Society.
He also had been a writer and theoretician with the Social Democrats USA and executive director of the League for Industrial Democracy.
He was a speechwriter for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey during his 1968 presidential campaign, and for Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-Wash.) in 1972. Mr. Kahn was long affiliated with labor and civil rights leader A. Bayard Rustin. He had worked with him in the historic 1963 March on Washington.
Survivors include his companion, Alain Fournier of Silver Spring; and a sister, Rosemary Colville of San Luis Obispo, Calif.
MARY A. WIDMAYER.
Lifelong Area Resident
Mary Agnes Widmayer, 95, a lifelong area resident who had been a member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church since 1950, died March 24 at the Meridian nursing home in Silver Spring. She had a heart ailment.
In 1930, she became a founding member of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Silver Spring. She also was a charter member of its Sodality. Before that, she had been a member of St. Dominic's and Sacred Heart Catholic churches in Washington.
Mrs. Widmayer, who had lived in Silver Spring since 1921, was a native of Washington. She was a graduate of Central High School.
Her husband, William J. Widmayer, died in 1973. Survivors include a son, Edward J., of Silver Spring; two daughters, Mary Elizabeth Reynolds of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Rita Hoy Sewell of Rockville; 17 grandchildren; 36 great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren.
Clement Warrener, 81, who served in the U.S. Park Police for 28 years before retiring in 1968 as a sergeant, died of cancer March 26 at the home of a son in Lewes, Del.
Mr. Warrener, a native of Watervliet, N.Y., came to the Washington area in the 1930s. He lived in Alexandria for 49 years before moving to Lewes in December 1991.
He was a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Alexandria.
His wife, the former Teresa M. Quinn, died in 1980. Survivors include two sons, Clement Warrener II of Alexandria and John Chester Warrener of Lewes; and a brother, Raymond Warrenner of Bowie.
ANTHONY J. ALONGI.
Anthony J. Alongi, 66, a retired foreman with Potomac Electric Power Co., died of a heart attack March 22 at Conway Hospital in Conway, S.C.
Mr. Alongi, a resident of Myrtle Beach, S.C., was born in Washington. He graduated from McKinley Technical High School. During World War II, he served in the Navy in the Atlantic.
In 1949, he began his career at Pepco. In 1987, he retired and moved to South Carolina. He was a former resident of Landover Hills.
Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Nancy E. Alongi of Myrtle Beach; three daughters, Diana Buttrey of Springfield, Susan Moroney of Derwood and Debbie Krieger of Dumfries; a brother, Joseph Alongi of Marietta, Ga.; a sister, Jeanette Barbour of Gaithersburg; and six grandchildren.
Sidney Fjelstad, 88, a wholesale fabric salesman for 40 years who retired about 1975 from the Spectrum fabrics company, died of pneumonia March 10 at Montgomery General Hospital.
A resident of Boyds, Mr. Fjelstad was born in Lake Benton, Mich. He attended the University of Pennsylvania.
He moved to the Washington area in 1935 and went to work for the Stapler fabrics company. In the 1950s, he joined Mead Montague Fabrics. He worked for Spectrum for about five years before he retired.
Mr. Fjelstad was a Mason.
His wife, Mary Lou Fjelstad, died in 1936. Survivors include a daughter, Diana F. Hancock of Boyds; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.