Henry H. Fowler, 91, a retired lawyer and investment banker whose long career in government culminated in his role as treasury secretary in the Johnson administration, died of pneumonia Jan. 3 at the Goodwin House West retirement community in Falls Church.
As treasury secretary from 1965 to 1968, he was the country's point man on President Lyndon B. Johnson's "guns and butter" economic policy, a term describing the administration's insistence that a tax wasn't need to pay for the escalating war in Vietnam and the domestic programs of the Great Society.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Fowler lobbied within the administration for a 10 percent tax increase as inflationary pressure began to build from Vietnam War-related activities. Johnson opposed a tax increase but eventually signed off on a surcharge that passed in 1968, the last year of a federal budget surplus until 1998.
There was no shortage of crises awaiting Mr. Fowler, who had served as treasury undersecretary from 1961 to 1964. He was a key figure in the effort to reform the postwar dollar gold system and a strategic adviser in forming policies to keep the dollar strong in foreign markets.
"Secretary Fowler was at all times committed to the highest ideals of public service," Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said in a statement. "United States and world economic and financial stability were greatly enhanced because of his dedication."
Mr. Fowler's appointment to head the Treasury Department came as a surprise to political observers who viewed his number two job as a counterbalance to his predecessor, C. Douglas Dillon, an investment banker and Republican who had served in the Eisenhower administration.
Like Johnson, Mr. Fowler was a southern Democrat with a reputation for being conservative but open to liberal policies. Mr. Fowler had also gained favor in the business and financial communities for shepherding the 1964 tax reduction bill through Congress.
The passage of the bill was no small feat given the opposition who feared a tax cut would do little to improve the economy and only add to the deficit. A courtly figure, Mr. Fowler shunned the public spotlight, preferring to meet with lawmakers behind closed doors. He argued that a massive cut in taxes would lead to increasing consumer purchasing, providing a boon to an economy suffering from unemployment and slow growth.
Mr. Fowler, nicknamed "Joe," possessed a razor-sharp mind and a mechanical aptitude for policies and regulations. His intellect and stoic demeanor were encased in the image of a southern gentleman, gracious, charming and always well-dressed.
He joined Goldman Sachs in 1969, at the urging of the firm's then-senior partner, Sidney J. Weinberg. He maintained a home in Alexandria while working in New York as chairman of Golman Sachs International for about 12 years.
In that capacity, he was instrumental in establishing the firm's business in Europe and Asia. He also started the firm's U.S. Treasury and agency securities trading operations in the early 1970s, leading to the creation of Goldman Sachs's highly successful Fixed Income, Currency and Commodities division.
Mr. Fowler was born in Roanoke and graduated from Roanoke College. He joined what is now the Washington law firm of Covington & Burling after receiving a law degree from Yale University in 1933.
A year later, he was one of many young lawyers recruited to work for and defend President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal social and economic measures. At a time when New Deal programs were being challenged as unconstitutional, he earned his spurs doing legal work for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Federal Power Commission and the War Production Board. In the latter capacity, he was sent to Great Britain and Germany in 1944 and 1945. He served as chief counsel of a Senate subcommittee on education and labor before spending about five years in private law practice representing blue-chip companies in government matters.
Given his experience with the War Production Board, he was asked to return to civil service during the Korean War, eventually serving as director of the office of defense mobilization. He practiced law from 1953 to 1961 before returning to the government as treasury undersecretary shortly after President John F. Kennedy's inauguration.
His honors included the Treasury Department's highest honor, the Alexander Hamilton Award.
During and after his years with Goldman Sachs, he remained active in civic affairs, serving as chairman of the U.S. Treasury Advisory Committee on International Monetary Affairs, vice chairman of the Atlantic Council of the United States and chairman of the Institute of International Education. He was a trustee of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.
Survivors include his wife, Trudye Hathcote Fowler of Alexandria; two daughters, Mary Ann Fowler Smith of Montclair, N.J, and Susan Fowler-Gallagher of Staatsburg, N.Y.; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.