Robert C. Weaver, 89, who as the nation's first secretary of Housing and Urban Development was the first black person to head a Cabinet agency, as well as one of the architects of the Great Society, died July 17 at his home in Manhattan.

He died in his sleep, according to a family friend. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Dr. Weaver, who was born and raised in Washington, was regarded as an intellectual, both pragmatic and visionary, who worked to improve the lives of blacks and other Americans both by expanding their opportunities and by bettering their communities.

"He put the bricks and mortar on President Johnson's blueprint for a Great Society," HUD Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.

"Robert Weaver got real urban legislation on the books and nurtured our country's first commitment to improve the quality of life in our nation's cities," Cuomo said.

On Jan. 13, 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the Harvard PhD and longtime federal and state housing official to be the first HUD secretary, many recognized that it was a moment both historic and symbolic.

Johnson said he had considered more than 300 candidates and had concluded that Dr. Weaver was "the man for the job."

In an interview after Dr. Weaver's death, Walter E. Washington, the District's first mayor elected under home rule, who had worked with Dr. Weaver, called him "a giant" and "a man of great vision . . . integrity, passion and commitment."

Washington said, "There was never a job that was too large or one that was too small if he saw in it the possibility of helping his fellow man."

Dr. Weaver was born Dec. 29, 1907, into the segregated world that was then Washington. He once recalled 45-minute streetcar rides that took him past schools for whites before he reached his for blacks.

He was descended from a former slave who had bought his freedom in 1830. His father was a postal worker, and his mother was the daughter of Robert Tanner Freeman, who was a Harvard graduate and the first black person in the United States to receive a doctorate in dentistry.

A multitalented man, Dr. Weaver worked as an electrician while attending Dunbar High School in Washington. After graduation, he went to Harvard, where he majored in economics, won the Boylston speaking prize and received his bachelor's degree in 1929. He received a master's degree two years later and a doctorate in economics in 1934.

In 1933, after the watershed election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dr. Weaver was one of the bright young intellectuals who came to the capital to create and run the New Deal. He spent 10 years in housing and labor recruitment and training, detailed for part of that time as an adviser to Interior Secretary Harold Ickes.

He also worked in the National Defense Advisory Commission and, during World War II, was director of the Negro Manpower Service in the War Manpower Commission. During those years, he also was prominent in what was known as Roosevelt's informal Black Cabinet, working behind the scenes to improve conditions and opportunities for blacks.

In the closing years of the war, he was executive secretary of the Chicago Mayor's Committee on Race Relations. During the 1940s and early '50s, he taught at universities, worked for philanthropic foundations and held a series of government housing posts in New York.

At the start of his administration, President John F. Kennedy named him chief of what was then the principal federal agency responsible for housing, the Housing and Home Finance Agency. He was credited with drawing together and unifying the efforts of what was regarded as a loose confederation of offices, bureaus and departments.

It was not until the Johnson administration that efforts to raise the department to Cabinet level bore fruit.

But throughout his tenure as the chief federal housing official, it was Dr. Weaver who "broadened the perspective" of government policy, said Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, executive director of Black Leadership Forum Inc. and a former New York state housing commissioner. She said Dr. Weaver moved policy from a narrow focus on the living unit itself to include community development, a more expansive view that encompassed both "housing and the environment around the housing."

As Dr. Weaver had expressed it, "You cannot have physical renewal without human renewal."

At the same time, he was known for his work for racial justice and equality. By the 1960s, he had been active in the struggle for decades. At the time of his appointment by Kennedy, he was chairman of the NAACP.

Once, in the early days of the struggle, he advised that the best way to achieve equality was "to fight hard -- and legally -- and don't blow your top."

After leaving his Cabinet post at the end of the Johnson administration, Dr. Weaver returned to New York, where he was a teacher and a consultant. He headed Baruch College in 1969 and was one of the directors of the Municipal Assistance Corp., which was set up to save the city from fiscal collapse in the 1970s.

He wrote, or contributed to, several books and held at least 30 honorary degrees.

His wife, Ella, died in 1991, and their son, Robert Jr., died in 1962. JERRY JOE' KERSHNER Metallurgical Engineer

Jerry "Joe" Kershner, 68, a metallurgical engineer who retired in 1995 after 30 years with the Navy Department, died of leukemia July 14 at a hospital in Tamarac, Fla. He moved to Tamarac from Bowie in 1995.

He was a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and a graduate of Polytech Institute of Brooklyn. He served in the Army and moved to Bowie in the mid-1960s.

Mr. Kershner was active with racquetball clubs and won gold medals in 1987, 1988 and 1991 for the sport in the Maryland State Senior Olympics. He also won two silver medals. He was a Volunteer for Israel, a Little League coach and a member of Nevey Shalom Congregation in Bowie.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Marilyn Kershner of Tamarac; two children, Phyllis Solomon of Potomac and Bruce Kershner of Gaithersburg; a brother; and four grandchildren. JOSEPH T. SWERDA Salesman and Driver

Joseph T. Swerda, 71, a former salesman and retired driver who lived in the Washington area for more than 50 years, died July 18 at a hospital in Ocala, Fla., after a stroke. He moved to Ocala from College Park in 1994. Mr. Swerda was a native of Pennsylvania. He worked for the Raleigh's clothing company as a stock boy in the mid-1940s and was a salesman for Washington area building supply companies until the late 1960s.

He also was a part-time driver and dispatcher for Blue Bird Cab Co. for more than 40 years.

He retired in 1994 after four years as a driver with Team Care medical supply company. Survivors include his wife of 51 years, Virginia Payne Swerda of Ocala; three sons, Lou G. Swerda of College Park, Jack D. Swerda of San Diego and Joseph J. Swerda of Spotsylvania, Va.; three brothers, John Swerda of Seattle, George Swerda of Hyattsville and Frank Swerdya of Springfield, Mass.; and 11 grandchildren. CAPTION: ROBERT C. WEAVER