Gallagher Dies; Crusaded for Disabled
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 16, 2004; Page B04
Hugh G. Gallagher, 71, who died of cancer
July 13 at Sibley Memorial
Hospital, wrote an early civil
rights law affecting the disabled and a praised biography of former president
Franklin D. Roosevelt's struggle with polio.
Mr. Gallagher, stricken with polio at age 19, played a
major role in the 2001 decision to add a statue of Roosevelt
in a wheelchair to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington.
For years he told reporters, "Don't let them steal our hero!"
Mr. Gallagher underwent rigorous and at times horrifying treatment for
his disease, which he contracted during its last widespread sweep in America
before the invention of a vaccine. He was paralyzed below the chest and later
suffered from clinical depression.
He went on to address his concerns for the disabled through a career
in politics and prose. Although many worked to change the image of the disabled
-- from the pitiable, leg-braced waif in old March of Dimes promotions -- Mr.
Gallagher was far more concerned about practical questions, the personal and
financial costs of living with a disability.
While working as an aide on Capitol Hill, he developed and drafted the
language of what became the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, a lauded
precursor to the sweeping Americans With Disabilities
Act of 1990. His legislation mandated that buildings funded with federal
dollars had to be accessible to the disabled, which many opposed because of
expense and aesthetic appeal.
"Hugh's most outstanding contribution to the quality of life of
people with disabilities was to successfully place disability rights on
Congress' agenda for the first time," former Senate majority leader Robert
J. Dole (R-Kan.) wrote for an event honoring Mr. Gallagher in 1995.
Mr. Gallagher was never a one-issue man, and his social concerns
ranged from gay rights to dignified end-of-life care. He also was a prolific
writer of newspaper opinion pieces.
His earliest nonfiction books concerned a range of subjects, from
congressional logjams ("Advise and Obstruct: The Role of the United States
Senate in Foreign Policy Decisions," 1969) to the efforts of the
indigenous people of Alaska to
win large land claims from the U.S.
government in 1971 ("Etok: A Story of Eskimo
By far his best-known book was "FDR's Splendid Deception"
(1985), about the president's ability to radiate hope and confidence while
living in great physical stress. Many critics hailed the book's unsentimental
approach to a long-overlooked aspect of Roosevelt's life.
In her review for The Washington Post, Marina Newmyer
wrote that Mr. Gallagher "has put together a solid, suspenseful and
fast-paced account of the medical tragedy suffered by Roosevelt."
Mr. Gallagher found that among the 35,000 photographs of Roosevelt
at his presidential library, only two featured him in his wheelchair. Media of
the day all but ignored the polio, an omission that served the president's
political purposes and showed his threshold for withstanding pain, he wrote.
He said he understood Roosevelt's stoicism,
which Mr. Gallagher took to indicate a near-disavowal of the disability.
"For years, I tried to work harder than any able-bodied person
would," he told an interviewer. "My drive to become a superhero
exacted a terrible price. I paid no attention to my emotions. I became an
Hugh Gregory Gallagher was born in Palo Alto,
Calif., where his father taught political
science at Stanford University.
He grew up in Chicago, New York
He was at Haverford College
in spring 1952 when he suddenly developed polio during parents' weekend. He
left school, spent three months in an iron lung and was operated on several
times. "I never realized such pain existed," he told a reporter at
Once, his iron lung stopped, and Mr. Gallagher had to instruct the
unnerved nurses how to pump the device by hand.
Much of his rehabilitation took place in Warm
Springs, Ga., where Roosevelt
also had recuperated. That triggered his fascination with the president.
In 1956, he graduated from what is now Claremont
in California and then went on a Marshall
scholarship to Oxford University,
where he received the equivalent of a master's degree in political science,
philosophy and economics.
At Oxford, he had
difficulty maneuvering a wheelchair on the cobblestone streets. The only
bathroom he could use was a block and a half from his room.
Such indignities led to his legislative work on Capitol Hill. He spent
most of the 1960s as an administrative assistant to Sen. E.L. "Bob"
Bartlett (D-Alaska). He also worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson as his
legislative signing and veto message writer in 1967 and 1968.
He then was the Washington
representative for British Petroleum and spent about 25 years as a policy and
politics consultant for large oil concerns in Europe.
His work took him to Alaska and
other oil-drilling areas, where he was often hoisted onto oil rigs in his
Over the years, he lobbied to make airports, performance halls and
libraries accessible to those in wheelchairs.
He wrote from his home in Cabin John, including the books "By
Trust Betrayed" (1990), about Nazi Germany's treatment of the disabled,
and "Black Bird Fly Away" (1998), which looked at his own depression
about his disability.
In 1995, Mr. Gallagher received the $50,000 Henry B. Betts Award for
his lifetime work for the disabled.
At the time, he reflected on the "revolution" in attitudes
toward the disabled but added that there were some limits in what was doable or
"Making the New York City
subway system accessible to wheelchairs is not the best way to spend public
money," he said. "Besides, I'm not going down there to get mugged."
Survivors include his father, Hubert R. Gallagher of Bethesda;
and a sister.
The Washington Post Company