IN THE TURBULENT middle of this capital city's extraordinary struggle for local self-determination in the 1960s, a furiously determined Lyndon Johnson went to work for home rule. Having been humiliated by the House's rejection of his all-out arm-twisting in support of a home rule bill, the president shot back with his own administratively ordered version of a new D.C. government -- complete with a "mayor" and a "deputy mayor," who proved to be two of the most critical figures in the District's escape from the colonial rule of Congress. Walter Washington would be the "political man" to the nonelective extent possible. A special help to him turned out to be a big, ruddy city manager from California whom hardly anyone here knew. Thomas W. Fletcher, who died Monday in Palo Alto at the age of 63, was more than a perfect sidekick for Mayor Washington; he was the expert municipal professional, the hard-nosed hunter of deadwood and petrified procedures in the bureaucracy.

Getting such a government running might have undone others, but Mr. Fletcher was regarded by city-manager colleagues around the country as a master mechanic with a passion for administrative efficiency. His high energy, low profile and gentle humor combined with a willingness to take heat from all sides when issues such as highways and a proposed Three Sisters Bridge across the Potomac had the town in a political uproar. The chemistry between mayor and deputy worked beautifully. "We took an instant liking to each other," Mr. Fletcher recalled on a return visit here in 1970, "almost like brothers."

It was unfair but essential that this appointed mayor and the new appointed council "prove" to the congressional overlords that this city and the people who live here could handle the local responsibilities assumed as matters of right by other Americans everywhere. Tom Fletcher believed passionately in self-government as "the only salvation for the District" -- and his contributions to this evolution deserve prominence in the history of a city he adopted and guided so effectively.