Walter Sheridan, 69, a prominent federal investigator for many years who played a key role in the epic struggle between the government and Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa, died of lung cancer Jan. 13 at his home in Derwood.
He was a staff member of the Senate rackets subcommittee of which Robert F. Kennedy was chief counsel and on which John F. Kennedy served as a senator. He was also an associate of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who lauded him yesterday as "an extraordinary investigator and an extraordinary human being."
By 1960, years of contentious investigation and dramatic, nationally televised hearings had made celebrities of the Senate subcommittee's lawyer, Robert Kennedy, and Hoffa. Hoffa had become one of the best-known labor leaders of the postwar era.
After John Kennedy became president in 1961 and his brother became attorney general, Robert Kennedy asked Mr. Sheridan to become his special assistant. In that job, he and a small group of lawyers were made responsible for prosecuting federal crimes associated with the Teamsters. The lawyers in the unit described themselves as the "Get Hoffa Squad," and Mr. Sheridan, though himself not a lawyer, was their chief, Arthur A. Sloane wrote in "Hoffa," his 1991 biography of the labor leader. In his 1971 book "Kennedy Justice," Victor Navasky also described Mr. Sheridan as the unit's chief. In 1962, Hoffa was brought to trial in Nashville. The chief prosecutor and his assistants, according to Sloane's book, operated "under the overall direction of ... Walter Sheridan ... who himself was in daily telephone contact with Attorney General Kennedy."
In a brief interview last night, Navasky said Mr. Sheridan "knew the worst things there were" about Hoffa and "devoted those years to doing something about that."
The trial, on a misdemeanor charge, ended in a hung jury.
But that trial led to a second trial on a charge of jury tampering, based at least in part on evidence gathered and investigated by Mr. Sheridan, according to Sloane's book. In 1964, Hoffa was convicted of jury tampering and began serving a prison term three years later.
In 1960, Robert Kennedy published a book called "The Enemy Within," based on his Senate committee investigations into labor matters. In it, he described Mr. Sheridan this way: "A slight, quiet friendly-faced man" who "was one of our best and most relentless investigators."
"His almost angelic appearance hides a core of toughness and he takes great pride in his work," Kennedy said.
"In any kind of fight, I would always want him on my side."
Mr. Sheridan was born in Utica, N.Y., served in the Submarine Service during World War II and later graduated from Fordham University. He was an FBI agent for four years and spent three years with the National Security Agency.
He was a regional coordinator for John Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign and had key roles in the political campaigns of Robert and Edward Kennedy.
As a Senate investigator in the 1980s, he helped show that clinical data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration had been tampered with, which led to new safeguards. He also led investigations into improper payments to physicians to influence how they prescribed medicines. His investigations into mine and on-the-job safety and health and into exploitation of farm workers also were credited with leading to new federal protections.
From 1965 to 1970, he was a special correspondent for NBC and his unit received a Peabody Award for a documentary on the 1967 Detroit riots.
He was the author of "The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa."
In his statement yesterday, Edward Kennedy said Mr. Sheridan "had a heart as large as his ability, and his courage and dedication to justice and the public interest were unmatched by anyone."
Survivors include his wife, Nancy; five children, Walter Sheridan of Gaithersburg, Hannah Shorey of Dallas, John Sheridan of Germantown, Joseph Sheridan of Lansdale, Pa., and Donald Sheridan of Harrisburg, Pa.; and 14 grandchildren.
FRANCIS 'FRANK' STOLBA Newspaper Circulation Manager
Francis H. "Frank" Stolba, 77, a retired Washington Star newspaper circulation division manager who was a member of St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring, died Jan. 9 at his home in Silver Spring. He had congestive heart failure and emphysema.
Mr. Stolba, who was born in Cambridge, Mass., served with the Navy in the Pacific and Mediterranean during World War II. He settled in the Washington area in 1948 and spent the next five years as a bread baker with the Holzbeierlein bakery in Washington. He then joined the Star, where he worked until retiring in 1979.
Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Dorothy M., of Silver Spring; two sons, Edward T., of New Market, Md., and Francis Jr., of Silver Spring; a daughter, Sister Janet Stolba RJM of Mount Rainier; and three grandchildren.
SHIRLEY BENNER MANGUM Nursery Owner
Shirley Benner Mangum, 61, co-founder in Montgomery County of Bell Nursery, Bell Nursery Farm and Creative Plantings, an interior landscaping company, died of cancer Jan. 12 at Montgomery General Hospital. She lived in Burtonsville.
Mrs. Mangum was a native of Washington and a graduate of Montgomery Blair High School. She was a secretary at the FBI before she and her husband, Robert T. Mangum, purchased Bell Flowers in Silver Spring in 1957. They began their nursery in Burtonsville in 1980.
She was a member of the Montgomery and Maryland State farm bureaus and Tri-County Baptist Church in Damascus.
In addition to her husband, of Burtonsville, survivors include four children, Gary L. Mangum and Lisa M. McCarthy, both of Burtonsville, Lori M. Connor of Gaithersburg and Dale A. Mangum of Silver Spring; a sister, Dorlene B. Harper of Olney; a brother, Roy E. Benner of Annapolis; and 11 grandchildren.
WILLIAM E. McDONALD Arts Adviser
William Eggers McDonald, 73, an arts adviser for the federal government from 1967 until retiring in 1983, died of a heart ailment Jan. 11 at Mount Vernon Hospital. He lived in Alexandria.
Mr. McDonald, a Coast Guard veteran of World War II, was a graduate of Omaha University in his native Nebraska. He earned a master's degree in art at the University of Nebraska. He was a Nebraska school administrator, serving from 1952 to 1966 as dean of Norfolk Junior College. He moved to the Washington area in 1967 and joined what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Survivors include his wife, Imogene, and a son, John W., both of Alexandria; a sister, Mary Rulla of Midland, Tex.; and four grandchildren.
MORE OBITUARIES ON PAGE B6