Frederick Dutton Dies; Power Broker, Presidential Aide

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 26, 2005; Page C10

Frederick Gary Dutton, 82, a Washington power broker who for 40 years was an adviser to the Kennedy family and the Saudi royal family, died June 25 at George Washington University Hospital of complications from a stroke.

Mr. Dutton had been the Washington liaison and consultant for Saudi Arabia since 1975 and was widely credited with engineering the come-from-behind congressional approval of two major arms sales to the kingdom -- the 1978 sale of F-15 fighters and the 1981 sale of radar planes.


Frederick Gary Dutton is sworn in as assistant secretary of state for congressional relations by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Mr. Dutton's wife and daughter Eve witnessed the Dec. 5, 1961, oath taking. (Associated Press)

Dubbed a "master power broker" by the Wall Street Journal and a "keen student of politics" by a New York Times correspondent, Mr. Dutton had both political credibility from his years in Democratic politics and social credibility from years spent wooing the press.

Since arriving in Washington in 1961 as an aide to President John F. Kennedy, Mr. Dutton had a knack for finding ways to exercise influence. He was Kennedy's secretary of the Cabinet and served later as assistant secretary of state for congressional relations under Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was the de facto campaign manager for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's presidential bid and was at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968 when the senator was fatally shot. Mr. Dutton muscled his way into the ambulance to ride to the hospital with the senator and Ethel Kennedy.

He worked on the presidential campaigns of Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972. He was an adviser to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and an impresario of spin. As an adviser to Mobil Oil in the early 1970s, he suggested that the company buy an ad on newspaper op-ed pages to argue a single topic. Mobil vice president Herb Schmertz took the advice, and the corporate advertorial was born. Mr. Dutton had a brief career as a talking head, paired with John Sears on the old "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" on PBS.

A balding, pixie-ish, poker-playing rogue, Mr. Dutton was born in Julesburg, Colo., and moved to California as a youth. During World War II, he served in the Army infantry and was wounded and taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. He was later awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He served in the Judge Advocate General's Corps during the Korean War, stationed in Japan.

Mr. Dutton graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and received a law degree from Stanford University in 1949. He was on the first editorial board of the Stanford Law Review with Warren M. Christopher, who became President Bill Clinton's secretary of state, and Shirley M. Hufstedler, President Jimmy Carter's secretary of education.

His political career began as Southern California campaign manager for Adlai Stevenson's 1956 presidential campaign. Afterwards, he signed on with Edmund G. "Pat" Brown's campaign for governor and later served as his chief of staff.

Mr. Dutton was a member of the California university system's board of regents from 1962 to 1978.

In 1962, as a presidential aide, he described himself as "Typhoid Mary, carrying germs of ideas and outlooks back and forth between the State Department and Congress."

He was in charge of the platform committee at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, coordinator of the John F. Kennedy Library and founding director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation and served on the Democratic National Committee's McGovern Commission from 1969 to 1972, which resulted in the reform of the delegate selection process. His role in increasing the number of female delegates led feminist Betty Friedan to call him the "Papa Bear of the women's liberation movement," said Nancy Dutton, his wife and law firm partner.

Although he was once described as "Fred of Arabia," his work as a lobbyist involved much behind-the-scenes work as a "force multiplier" who paved the way for others to take the stage. He brought media personalities into social contact with politicians at dinner parties that his wife insisted were simply gatherings of friends but that are as much a part of the capital city's unwritten rules of influence as the power lunch.

"I like to keep things on a social level," Mr. Dutton said of one of his soirees.

When quoted in print, he played down the work of lobbying and observations that he was as much a political strategist as an aide to elected officials.

"When you get right down to it, we're just pimples on the process," he told The Washington Post in 1983. "So much of lobbying is just blue smoke and mirrors. One of the phoniest parts of the whole business is the extent to which the Washington office exists simply to feed the corporate vice president back home a steady diet of the insider Washington gossip. You're a bigger man on Fifth Avenue or out on Main Street if you can make a grand processional into Washington."

His marriage to June Kingborg ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, of Washington; three children from his first marriage, Christopher Dutton of San Anselmo, Calif., Lisa Dutton of Los Angeles and Eve Dutton of San Carlos, Calif.; two daughters from his second marriage, Stacy Dutton of Philadelphia and Christina Dutton of Washington; and seven grandchildren.