An obituary in Monday's editions of The Washington Post about Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), who died in San Francisco Sunday at the age of 56, failed to include among his survivors a brother, Robert, who is an elected member of the Community College Board of San Francisco, and two grandchildren. The obituary also failed to make clear that another surviving brother, former representative John L. Burton (D-Calif.), declined to seek reelection to Congress in 1982.
Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives and a principled and sometimes profane champion of such causes as food stamps for the disadvantaged and national parks for everyone, died yesterday at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco. He was 56.
Hospital officials said the cause of death appeared to be an embolism, but an autopsy was scheduled for Monday. Burton was stricken at his suite at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and complained of chest pains.
Burton was elected to the House in 1964. In 1976, he came within one vote of being elected House Demoratic Majority leader. When President Reagan took office in 1981, Burton turned his attention from the environment and national parks to labor, whose interests had been close to him since he first came to Washington.
For many years he was the dominant figure in the California congressional delegation and on two occasions played large roles in redistricting the state's congressional districts. Last year, he did the "gerrymandering" in such a way that the Democrats picked up several seats.
Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) said yesterday that Burton had told him on Thursday that he thought he had the flu.
"I said, 'You ought to be in bed.' But he looked good," Edwards said. "He had a suntan. I think the gruelling campaign in November was hard on him. Phil never was one to really take top-notch care of himself."
Burton was sometimes compared to President Johnson. Both were liberals. Both were masters of the legislative art. Both were big men physically and both could be overbearing as well as persuasive.
Burton had been described as looking like a retired longshoreman in San Francisco, where his district is located. He had a voice and a vocabulary to match. His rages and arm-waving were famous. He had a reputation for arrogance, and little time for those he regarded as fools. A saving grace was an ability to laugh at himself and a warmth and loyalty toward old friends.
Whether sweet-talking or arm-twisting, he knew how to trade for the votes he needed. A case in point was an incident in which he backed an unlimited farm support bill in return for rural votes in favor of extending food stamps to striking industrial workers.
"Phil uses power for better ends than 99 percent of the people in this institution," former representative Jerome Waldie (D-Calif.) once said. "Even when he makes his shabby little deals . . . . There's only one constituency he gives a damn about: the poor, the elderly, the black and the disabled."
When he entered Congress, Burton was an opponent of the Vietnam war even at that early stage. He is credited with helping to pass legislation that established a cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients, raised the minimum wage, and improved benefits for the elderly and the disabled, including miners suffering from black lung disease. He supported civil rights programs.
In later years he turned his attention to the environment. In 1978, he engineered passage of a $1.8 billion national parks bill, the largest in history. It established more than 100 parks around the country. He also became the congressional champion of American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and other American dependencies.
And if Burton desired to do good rather than well, he nonetheless loved power. In 1976, the Democratic Majority leadership of the House came within his grasp, a prize that might have put him in line to be Speaker of the House. Counting strongly in his favor was his intelligence, his mastery of the ways of the House and his knowledge of its individual members and their districts, and his work as chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
He used the caucus leadership to cultivate new congressmen and to liberalize the committee system. As a result, greater power attached to subcommittees and to the more junior members who chaired them. The legislative process became more open.
So when Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill gave up the Majority leadership to become Speaker, Burton sought to succeed him. Also in the race were Reps. Richard Bolling (Mo.) and Jim Wright (Tex.). Bolling was eliminated in the first ballot. In the second, Wright won, getting 148 votes, to 147 for Burton.
In the view of most observers, what had counted against Burton was his personality and his abrasive way of doing things.
Not discouraged, Burton, who had spent most of his career on the House Education and Labor Committee, began making a new name for himself as an environmentalist on the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee.
Questions of personality hardly hurt Burton with the voters of San Francisco, who returned him with large majorities in every election in which he stood.
In a typical camaign appearance last fall, he railed against Interior Seretary James Watt and "this goddamned Reaganomics."
"You can bet your bippy," he said, "that I'll never fail to fight for social, racial and economic justice as long as I can draw a breath."
In the November election, he handily beat Republican State Sen. Milton Marks.
Burton was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in San Francisco. He was graduated from the University of California and took a law degree at Golden Gate Law School. He was a veteran of World War II and the Korean conflict. He was elected to the California State Assembly in 1956 and remained there until going to Congress.
Survivors include his wife, Sala, a daughter, Joy, and a brother, John L. Burton, a former chariman of the California State Democratic Party and a congressman from the San Francisco Bay area until he resigned last year.