Founder of Common Cause dead at 89

By United Press International

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- John Gardner, founder of Common Cause and famous as an effective innovator in a field he helped establish -- urban improvement -- died at his home on the Stanford University campus Saturday. He was 89.

Gardner served in President Johnson's Cabinet as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare from 1965 to 1968 and was a past chairman of the National Urban Coalition.


He was also known as the father of campaign finance reform, a goal significantly furthered by a reform measure passed by the House of Representatives Thursday.

A Marine officer in World War II, he was chairman of the National Civic League and in 1980 he co-founded Independent Sector, an organization that encouraged volunteerism with $10,000 grants for accomplishments in that field.

His death came just a day after the announcement by Stanford that Atlantic Philanthropies had made a $5 million grant to the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.


In the announcement the senior vice president of the philanthropic organization, Alan Ruby, said "We are supporting the John Gardner Center because John Gardner is one of the great people of the 20th century."

Ruby continued, "Gardner is passionate about making the lives of young Americans richer in spirit and more purposeful by being engaged in making their communities better and safer places."

Gardner was a consulting professor at Stanford's School of Education when he died.

When the center was established in September 2000 Gardner said, "If you want to train leaders, you have to start early."

The center's mission is to conduct research, educate the public and persuade diverse groups such as schools, law enforcement and government to work together to seek more effective solutions to the problems facing youth.

Milbrey McLaughlin, the center's executive director and the David Jacks Professor of Education, said the grant honored Gardner's special ability to bring people together to work toward a common goal.

Gardner left the Johnson administration Cabinet because he felt he could accomplish more for urban relief as an outsider than by working within the government. He joined the National Urban Coalition and became its chairman in 1969.


Late in 1970, Gardner formed Common Cause, a public interest group designed to serve as a watchdog on the government. He built it into one of the most effective and influential private groups in the public interest field.

Common Cause worked toward ending the war in Vietnam, stopping production of the SST supersonic plane and the B-1 bomber, easing the pain of poverty and setting up a governmental Consumer Protection Agency.

Gardner, a 1964 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, played a major role in civil rights enforcement, education reform and campaign finance reform.

He also was instrumental in the creation of Medicare and in establishing the public television network and supporting community volunteer service. In addition to founding Common Cause and the Urban Coalition, he chaired numerous presidential commissions and mentored many public service organizations.

"Nobody has a stronger belief in society's potential, in the potential of institutions, than John Gardner," Gerhard Casper, Stanford University president from 1992 to 2000, said Friday.

"The commitment to renewal that he has displayed throughout a life of action and reflection continues to be a great encouragement to his alma mater, to which he remains as close as ever. The new program will focus people once again on one of John's central themes: Think possibilities, rather than obstacles."


Gardner found his way to getting his name on President Nixon's "enemies list" by researching campaign contributions. Common Cause filed a lawsuit that forced Nixon to disclose the names of those who contributed to his 1972 presidential cmapaign. It also sought to put limits on the amount that could be contributed to candidate in a national election.

Gardner gave up his position as chairman of Common Cause in 1977, but agreed to remain on the staff as a member. At one time during his chairmanship, the membership of Common Cause reached 310,000.

He was a member of the staff of the Carnegie Corp. and was president of the Carnegie Foundation.

He was born on Oct. 8, 1912 in Los Angeles and after attending city schools he received his bachelor and master's degrees from Stanford University and got his Ph.D from the University of California in 1938. He taught psychology at the University of California, Connecticut College and Mt. Holyoke College.

He authored three books on the relationship of the individual and societal improvement, "Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too?;" "On Leadership," and "Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society."

Gardner married Aida Marroquin in 1934 and they had two children.


Latest Headlines


Follow Us