RANDOLPH THROWER, I.R.S. CHIEF WHO RESISTED NIXON
By PAUL VITELLO
MARCH 18, 2014
A daughter, Patricia Barmeyer, confirmed the death.
Mr. Thrower’s unusual legal background — as a federal tax law expert and a lawyer for death row inmates in Georgia, most of them black, in the Jim Crow era — helped garner wide support from lawyers’ groups and lawmakers when Nixon nominated him for I.R.S. commissioner.
And though his tenure was short, he was instrumental in two historic overhauls of American tax policy: revoking the tax-exempt status of private schools that excluded blacks, and passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which he helped draft. The legislation eliminated some loopholes for the rich and exempted many poor people from federal taxes altogether.
The end came in January 1971, after Mr. Thrower requested a meeting with the president, hoping to warn him personally about the pressure White House staff members had been placing on the I.R.S. to audit the tax returns of certain individuals. Beginning with antiwar leaders and civil rights figures, the list had grown to include journalists and members of Congress, among them every Democratic senator up for re-election in 1970, Mr. Thrower told investigators years later.
He was certain the president was unaware of this and would agree that “any suggestion of the introduction of political influence into the I.R.S.” could damage his presidency, he said.
Mr. Thrower received two responses. The first was a memo from the president’s appointments secretary saying a meeting would not be possible; the second was a phone call from John D. Ehrlichman, the president’s domestic affairs adviser, telling him he was fired.
He agreed to stay on until a replacement could be found, did not voice his concerns publicly about the administration’s growing appetite for prosecuting its putative enemies, and never disputed the White House explanation for his departure — that he had resigned “for personal reasons.”
In White House tapes and memos released in later years, Nixon described the situation differently. “May I simply reiterate for the record that I wish Randolph Thrower, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, removed at the earliest feasible opportunity,” he wrote on Jan. 21, 1971, five days before the White House announced that Mr. Thrower was stepping down.
That May, as the administration continued to look for a successor to Mr. Thrower, Nixon made clear what kind of I.R.S. commissioner he wanted. “I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch,” he was recorded as saying, “that he will do what he is told, that every income tax return I want to see I see” and “that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends.”
Mr. Thrower, who had long been involved in Republican politics in Atlanta, had not worked in Nixon’s election campaign in 1968. He met Nixon for the first time, he said, when he was appointed I.R.S. commissioner. Seeing Nixon as a shrewd politician who viewed tax overhaul as a winning issue, he took the job, he said, hoping to bring a progressive approach to federal tax policy. But, he added, he “did not like him from the first.”
Randolph William Thrower was born in Tampa, Fla., on Sept. 5, 1913, the youngest of three children of Benjamin Thrower Jr. and Ora Hammond Thrower. His father was working in real estate when he died in 1915. The children were raised by grandparents.
Besides Ms. Barmeyer, Mr. Thrower is survived by three daughters, Margaret MacCary, Laura Harris and Mary Wickham; a son, Randy; 11 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. His wife, Margaret Logan Munroe Thrower, died in 2009.
Mr. Thrower, who received his bachelor’s degree in 1934 and his law degree in 1936 from Emory University in Atlanta, began practicing law in 1937, served in the Marine Corps during World War II and afterward practiced law in Atlanta.
Mr. Thrower encountered several White House operatives while he was I.R.S. commissioner who would later play roles in the Watergate scandal. The one who alarmed him the most, he told interviewers, was G. Gordon Liddy, the former F.B.I. agent who helped plan the break-in of the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in 1972. Mr. Liddy was sent to him in 1970 as the White House candidate to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, then a branch of the I.R.S.
“He was a gun nut,” Mr. Thrower said. “They wanted me to put a gun nut in charge of guns.” Mr. Liddy did not get the job.
But it was not Watergate that haunted Mr. Thrower; it was the case of Will Coxson, a black teenager convicted in the late 1930s of raping a white woman in Marietta, Ga., and sentenced to die. Mr. Thrower took the case on appeal in 1940 and discovered that Mr. Coxson’s alibi was solid and that the victim’s initial description of her attacker as “a light-skinned black man” had changed significantly when the prosecution brought the case to trial. Mr. Coxson was dark-skinned.
The Georgia Supreme Court ordered a hearing on whether Mr. Coxson had received adequate representation, and Mr. Thrower was preparing for that when he left to join the Marines. Turning the case over to another lawyer, he said, he felt sure that the evidence would sustain an appeal all the way to the United States Supreme Court if necessary and win Mr. Coxson’s freedom. But the case “withered on the vine,” he said, and while Mr. Thrower was serving in the Pacific, Mr. Coxson was executed.
“For the past 60 years, no case has kept me awake at night as much as this,” he said in a 2001 lecture, “wondering what else I might have done to save the life of this young man. His life should not have been taken.”
FRED PHELPS, ANTI-GAY PREACHER WHO TARGETED MILITARY FUNERALS
MARCH 20, 2014
The Westboro Baptist Church confirmed the death, declaring on one of its websites, “Fred W. Phelps Sr. has gone the way of all flesh.” The church did not give a cause of death, but Mr. Phelps had been living under hospice care.
Mr. Phelps, who founded and led Westboro Baptist, a small, independent church in Topeka, was a much-loathed figure at the fringe of the American religious scene, denounced across the theological and political spectrum for his beliefs, his language and his tactics.
His congregation, which claims to have staged tens of thousands of demonstrations, is made up almost entirely of his family members, many of whom lived together in a small Topeka compound, although in recent years some of his children and grandchildren had broken with the group.
A disbarred civil rights lawyer who had once been honored by the N.A.A.C.P. and who ran for office repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, as a Democrat, Mr. Phelps seemed to accept the criticism if not relish it.
“If I had nobody mad at me,” he told The Wichita Eagle in 2006, “what right would I have to claim that I was preaching the Gospel?”
He believed that the United States was beyond saving, and he devoted his life to traveling with a small band of protesters to highlight what he saw as America’s sinfulness and damnation.
“The way to prove you love thy neighbor is to warn them they’re committing sin,” he told the central Pennsylvania newspaper The Patriot-News in 2004. “You’re not going to get nowhere with that slop that ‘God loves you,’ ” he added. “That’s a diabolical lie from hell without biblical warrant.”
His church’s website maintains a running tally of “people whom God has cast into hell since you loaded this page.”
He was highly litigious and employed crude language to call attention to his cause. (The slogan “God Hates Fags” appeared on the church’s picket signs and remains in its web address.) He sued President Ronald Reagan for establishing diplomatic relations with the Vatican; denounced the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who called Mr. Phelps a “first-class nut”; and picketed the funerals of Al Gore’s father and Bill Clinton’s mother.
Mr. Phelps’s picketing began in 1991 as an outgrowth of his dissatisfaction with Topeka’s response to his complaint that gay men were using a park near his home for “indecent conduct.” His antigay effort at the park was followed by protests of funerals of people who had died of AIDS, and then multiple local churches that he criticized as tolerant of homosexuality.
In 1998, he explained his view of a wrathful God in an interview with The Houston Chronicle.
“You can’t believe the Bible without believing that God hates people,” he said. “It’s pure nonsense to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He hates the sin, and he hates the sinner. He sends them to hell. Do you think he loves the people in hell?”
Later that year, he attracted global attention and condemnation when he picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student whose beating death led to a national debate over hate crimes.
It was his church’s protests of military funerals, which began in about 2005, that provoked the most widespread anger, prompting legislative bodies to establish buffer zones to limit such protests at funerals. In 2011, Mr. Phelps won a major legal victory when the Supreme Court ruled, 8 to 1, that his church’s protests were a protected form of speech. The ruling preserved the buffer zones but found that the father of a slain soldier was not entitled to damages for emotional distress caused by a protest.
“This is somebody who was addicted to rage and anger,” K. Ryan Jones, a filmmaker who made a documentary about Mr. Phelps, said in an interview. “Early on in his legal career he would manifest that rage against the people he was prosecuting, or some would say persecuting, and then when he was disbarred that rage transitioned into the ministry.”
Fred Waldron Phelps was born on Nov. 13, 1929, in Meridian, Miss. He said that he had been admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point but that after high school he had what his official biography called “a profound religious experience” and decided instead to devote himself to evangelism. In 1951, when he was just 21, he was profiled in Time magazine after his denunciations of “promiscuous petting” and “teachers’ filthy jokes in classrooms” at John Muir College in Pasadena, Calif., where he was a student, had brought him into conflict with the administration.
He married Margie Marie Simms in 1952, and in 1954 the couple moved to Topeka. They had 13 children, 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, according to the church’s website. Mr. Phelps established Westboro Baptist in 1955.
He earned a law degree in 1964 from Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, but his legal career was troubled from the start. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which describes Westboro Baptist as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” Mr. Phelps struggled to find people to attest to his good character when he wanted to be admitted to the bar, was temporarily suspended for professional misconduct, and was even sued for failing to pay for candy his children sold door to door.
He succeeded in winning settlements in discrimination cases he filed as a civil rights lawyer.
“Most blacks — that’s who they went to,” the Rev. Ben Scott, president of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Topeka branch, said in an interview with CNN in 2010. “I don’t know if he was cheaper or if he had that stick-to-it-ness, but Fred didn’t lose many back then.”
Mr. Phelps was disbarred in Kansas in 1979 for professional misconduct in connection with a lawsuit he brought against a court clerk who he said had failed to have a transcript ready in time. In 1989, after being accused of misconduct by nine federal judges, he agreed to stop practicing law in the federal courts as well.
His focus on protests since 1991 was relentless: His church claimed to hold multiple events a day while issuing news releases using coarse and inflammatory language, some of which celebrated the deaths of American soldiers, saying they were God’s way of punishing America for enabling homosexuality.
This week, an estranged son of Mr. Phelps said his father had been excommunicated from his own church. The church did not respond to that assertion. Answering inquiries about Mr. Phelps’s health, however, the church summed up its message, saying: “God still hates fags, God still hates fag enablers and any nation that embraces that sin as an ‘innocent’ lifestyle can expect to incur the wrath of God. Repent or Perish.”
Westboro Baptist has said that it does not plan to hold a public funeral for Mr. Phelps, and the Kansas Equality Coalition, a gay rights group, has urged people not to celebrate his death. When asked in 2006 how he would feel if his own funeral were protested, Mr. Phelps said: “I’d welcome it. I’d invite them.”
SAM LACEY, TOP CENTER IN N.B.A. AND THE 1970 FINAL FOUR
MARCH 18, 2014
His daughter Gretchen Downey said the cause had not yet been determined.
Spending most of his 13 National Basketball Association seasons with the Cincinnati Royals and the Kansas City Kings, the Royals’ successor franchise, Lacey was a rugged rebounder, at 6 feet 10 inches and 235 pounds, and an outstanding shot blocker. He also hit timely baskets and was a fine playmaker.
Seeking to rebuild after trading Oscar Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Royals selected Lacey in the first round of the 1970 N.B.A. draft after he led New Mexico State University to the N.C.A.A. tournament’s Final Four.
Lacey teamed with guard Nate Archibald, his fellow rookie and a future N.B.A. scoring champion, to provide some spark for a losing Royals team.
Perhaps his biggest game as a rookie came at Madison Square Garden, when he blocked three shots by the Knicks’ star center, Willis Reed.
Lacey averaged in double figures in points and rebounds in his first six professional seasons, and he averaged 5.3 assists in 1974-75, when he was an All-Star. But his teams never made it past the Western Conference finals, which the Kings reached in 1981 after posting a 40-42 regular-season record.
“Once we got into the playoffs, there were no expectations,” Lacey told The Kansas City Star in 2002. “We just played together, played team ball.”
Lacey’s teammates that season included guards Otis Birdsong and Phil Ford and forward Scott Wedman, who told The Star that Lacey “was the team captain during our best run, so that says a lot about him as a leader and teammate.”
Samuel Lacey Jr. was born on March 8, 1948, in Indianola, Miss. He was recruited for New Mexico State by Ed Murphy, an assistant to the head coach, Lou Henson.
“Sam was a really shy kid when he first came to New Mexico State,” Murphy told the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. “I don’t know that he had ever been out of the Mississippi Delta.”
Lacey averaged nearly 18 points and 16 rebounds as a senior for the Aggies, leading them to the only Final Four appearance in their history, a 1970 matchup with U.C.L.A. He injured an ankle early and scored only 8 points as the Bruins, led by Henry Bibby, Curtis Rowe, John Vallely and Sidney Wicks, defeated the Aggies, 93-77, and went on to win the championship.
Lacey averaged 10.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in his N.B.A. career, which concluded with a season apiece for the New Jersey Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In addition to his daughter Gretchen, he is survived by two other daughters, Alires Almon and Barri Davis-Richardson; a brother, Ike; and four grandchildren.
The Sacramento Kings, whose roots go back to the Rochester Royals and the teams that played in Cincinnati, Omaha and then Kansas City, have paid tribute to Lacey.
His No. 44 is displayed aloft at the Sacramento arena along with the numbers worn by stars like Robertson, Archibald, Maurice Stokes, Jack Twyman and Bob Davies, figures from the Kings’ basketball family tree.