John C. Stennis, 93, the courtly and conservative Mississippi Democrat who during more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate became one of its most powerful members, died April 23 at a hospital in Jackson, Miss. He had been admitted several days before with pneumonia.
Sen. Stennis was a state circuit court judge little known in Washington and something of an authority on farming when he was elected to the Senate in 1947, saying that he was a segregationist who would work to preserve "the Southern way of life."
Before he left office in January 1989, he had served as the Senate's president pro tem and had been chairman of both its Armed Services and Appropriations committees. Over the years, he also had been chosen by his colleagues for other assignments, often difficult ones that brought him little thanks outside the Capitol.
He served on the committee that investigated the conduct of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) in 1954. He became the first Senate Democrat to take on McCarthy, accusing him of using "slush and slime" in pursuit of ever-elusive communists.
He was chosen in 1965 as the first chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct. He wrote the Senate's first code of ethics. And he served on the Senate committee that investigated President Richard M. Nixon's involvement in Watergate.
But it was as Armed Services chairman from 1969 to 1981 that he wielded vast influence over the country and vast power within the Senate. If he ran a tight ship, he did it with fairness and integrity, as well as sagacity.
Upon learning of Sen. Stennis's death, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) hailed him as "a great senator in every way. He was effective, respected and deeply appreciated by the people in Mississippi. He was truly a man of great stature. We have suffered a great loss."
Testament to his grit were two events that involved personal adversity. In 1973, while walking near his Washington home, he was shot and left for dead by robbers. In 1984, he lost a leg to cancer and could return to work only in a wheelchair. On both occasions, he went back to work well before his physicians thought it likely and returned to standing ovations.
He won a special election to the Senate as a moderate segregationist alternative to two white supremacist candidates. He was an author of the 1954 "Southern Manifesto," which denounced the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in public schools, and voted against all civil rights legislation until 1982, when he announced his support for extension of the Voting Rights Act. He opposed civil rights with some decorum, unlike his less-restrained longtime Senate colleague from Mississippi, James O. Eastland.
Sen. Stennis often confined himself to taking mildly sly shots at northern senators for what he called their hypocrisy in denouncing the South while glossing over racial problems in their own states. He did not use "race" as a campaign issue.
On defense issues, he changed little over the years. He was a senator who had come to office at the birth of the Cold War and the beginning of a long arms race. He never doubted the wisdom of having a national defense that was second to none in the world, and he supported every president on requests concerning national security.
Before U.S. troops were engaged in Vietnam, he cautioned against involvement in combat operations, taking the Senate floor to warn that the eventual result might not be victory but a painful choice between endless conflict or running. Yet once U.S. forces were committed, he supported the action to the bitter end.
His influence was enormous. He not only was chairman of the Armed Services Committee but he also headed the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, giving him double-barreled influence over defense spending.
He was no puppet of either the Defense Department or the White House. He insisted on value for dollar from armed services and defense contractors. In 1971, he joined senators who introduced legislation that required congressional authority for the president to maintain military combat operations after a specified period.
"The decision to make war is too big a decision for one mind to make and too awesome for one man to bear," he said. "There must be a collective judgment given and a collective responsibility shared."
In the 1970s, the country and many of the younger senators in his own party seemed to be in revolt against the beliefs if not the person of Sen. Stennis. He lost an important turf battle when a separate intelligence oversight committee was established, outside the control of the Armed Services Committee.
In 1982, perhaps sensing that illness and age were slowing the senator down, Haley Barbour, now chairman of the Republican National Committee, mounted a well-financed, intelligent and vigorous campaign for the seat. Since 1947, Sen. Stennis had run largely unopposed, and many wondered if he would even run for reelection. Sen. Stennis ran, carrying all but two counties with 64 percent of the vote.
His last term seemed at times like a long valedictory. He mostly declined to speak about civil rights issues, saying the climate had changed since he came to office and saying he always had favored the advancement of both races.
He was the last of the true Southern Democratic barons to many. Despite physical ailments, he would arrive at his Capitol office about 8 a.m. and remain at the Capitol until the Senate adjourned for the day. Quiet and frail, he struggled out of his wheelchair to address the Senate or when he met a lady.
He also relished looking out for Mississippi. He would remark with pride on his role in securing the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigee Waterway, which was opposed by nearly everyone not living in Mississippi and was a mark of his clout.
John Cornelius Stennis was born Aug. 3, 1901, on a farm in Kemper County, Miss., the youngest of seven children. He graduated from what is now Mississippi State University and the University of Virginia law school. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
After graduating from law school in 1928, he began the private practice of law in De Kalb and won election to the state House of Representatives. In 1931, he became a district attorney. He was appointed a state circuit court judge in 1937 and held that post until entering the Senate. He won a special election on Nov. 4, 1947, to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Theodore G. Bilbo (D).
In a 1985 interview, Sen. Stennis said: "How would I like to be remembered? I haven't thought about that a whole lot. You couldn't give me a finer compliment than just to say, He did his best.' "
Sen. Stennis's wife of 52 years, Coy Hines Stennis, died in 1983. Survivors include a son and a daughter. AUSTIN CATER GSA Electrician
Austin Cater, 93, a retired General Services Administration electrician who was a member of 19th Street Baptist Church in Washington, was pronounced dead at D.C. General Hospital on April 21.
A spokesman for the D.C. police said that Mr. Cater, who had terminal cancer, was found earlier that day at his Washington home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and that his death appeared to be a suicide.
Mr. Cater was a native of Georgia, where he laid track for Southern Railroad, and later lived in Pennsylvania, where he worked in steel mills. He moved to the Washington area in the early 1930s. A certified electrician, he worked for the GSA for 31 years before retiring in 1968.
His wife, the former Edith Copeland, died in 1989. Survivors include a brother, John Cater Jr. of Washington, and a sister, Edell Parker of Philadelphia. PAUL LICHTMAN Cardiologist GERTRUDE LICHTMAN Homemaker
Paul A. Lichtman, 93, a past vice president of the Washington chapter of the American College of Cardiology who practiced medicine in Washington for 50 years before retiring in 1982, died of cardiac arrest at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington on April 7.
The next day, his wife of 62 years, Gertrude Rosenblum Lichtman, 90, a member of Washington Hebrew Congregation and its sisterhood, died of pneumonia at the Hebrew Home.
Dr. Lichtman, who was born in Poland, came to Washington in 1904. He was a 1928 graduate of George Washington University and a 1932 graduate of its medical school. He interned at the old Gallinger Hospital in Washington.
Mrs. Lichtman, a New Jersey native, came to the Washington area about 1930, and she spent about the next two years as a government secretary. She belonged to the National Council of Jewish Women and the women's auxiliary of the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington.
The Lichtmans are survived by their two sons, Philip, of Newton, Mass., and Stuart, of Santa Barbara, Calif.; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Dr. Lichtman's survivors also include a brother, Irving, of Washington. FRANCIS J. CARUSO Government Cartographer
Francis J. Caruso, 55, a cartographer with the Defense Mapping Agency in Bethesda for the last 35 years, died of cancer April 15 at his home in Odenton.
Mr. Caruso, an Air Force veteran, was a Washington native. He was a graduate of Archbishop Carroll High School and George Washington University.
He was a member of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Kensington, St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Odenton and the Sons of Italy.
His marriage to Claudia Caruso ended in divorce.
Survivors include two sons, Frank Jr., of Odenton, and Tony, of Columbia; a daughter, Carol Ann Caruso-Taylor of Pasadena, Md.; his mother, Finalba Caruso of Englewood, Colo.; two brothers, Joseph, of Franktown, Colo., and James, of Englewood; two sisters, Mary Ann Calisto of Castle Rock, Colo., and Jeanne Busby of Ashton; and two grandchildren. CHARLES C. UHL Magazine Official
Charles Christian Uhl, 71, who worked for the National Geographic Society for 27 years before retiring in 1989 as associate art director of the National Geographic magazine, died of cancer April 19 at his home in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Mr. Uhl, who moved to Myrtle Beach in 1989, was a New York native. He settled in Washington after World War II service in the China-Burma-India theater with the Army Air Forces. He graduated from George Washington University and the Corcoran School of Art.
Before joining the Geographic, he had been an illustrator for Creative Arts Studios in Washington, the Defense Department and the Russian and Polish editions of the U.S. Information Agency's America magazine.
He had traveled in Central and South America and collected pre-Columbian artifacts. He had won awards for graphic arts work.
Survivors include his wife, the former Mary Joanne Huff, whom he married in 1951 and who lives in Myrtle Beach; two sons, David Christopher Uhl of Frederick, Md., and Philip Andrew Uhl of Silver Spring; a daughter, Carla Hamilton of Montara, Calif.; a sister, Dorothea Wisman of Bethesda; and two grandchildren. PATRICIA LEE JOHNSON Educator
Patricia Lee Johnson, 66, a retired Montgomery County schools teacher and mathematics supervisor, died of cancer April 21 at Winchester Memorial Hospital. A former Beltsville resident, she had lived in Clearbrook, Va., since 1985.
She taught mathematics at Belt Junior High in Wheaton from about 1960 to 1966. She then served as a county mathematics supervisor until retiring in 1971. Mrs. Johnson, who came to the Washington area in 1955, was born in West Virginia. A graduate of Marshall University, she received a master's degree in education from the University of Maryland.
Survivors include her husband of 47 years, Paige D., of Clearbrook; a son, Paige Edward Johnson of Stafford, Va.; her mother, Mary Virginia Lee of Winchester, Va.; and three grandchildren. CAPTION: JOHN C. STENNIS (1986 photo)