Burch, (Roy) Dean

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Burch, (Roy) Dean

(b. 20 December 1927 in Enid, Oklahoma; d. 4 August 1991 in Potomac, Maryland), telecommunications lawyer, political adviser, and chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and the Republican National Committee.

Burch was born to Bert Alexander Burch and Leola Atkis-son in Enid on the eve of the Great Depression. He served in the U.S. Army in Japan after World War II and later attended the University of Arizona, receiving a bachelor of laws degree in 1953.

From 1953 to 1954 Burch served as an assistant attorney general in Arizona before joining the Washington, D.C., staff of Senator Barry M. Goldwater in 1955 as a legislative and administrative assistant. In 1959 Burch returned to Arizona as a partner in the Tucson firm of Dunseath, Stubbs, and Burch. He married Patricia Meeks on 7 July 1961; they had three children.

Burch was an anonymous Arizona lawyer until he was thrust into the national spotlight in 1964. Senator Gold- water, ascending through the Republican leadership, chose Burch to become the Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman. Although he had no previous national political experience, Burch was a tremendous manager who overhauled the RNC headquarters, turning it into a marvel of modern communications and campaign organization.

The race for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 was a struggle between the party’s liberal and conservative wings, embodied personally by Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York on the left and Senator Goldwater on the right. Under Burch’s guidance, the RNC was committed to Goldwater, although Burch himself was seen by many as a moderate influence in the conservative senator’s brain trust. When Goldwater appeared to be foundering entering the crucial California primary, Burch went to the state and took over. Many observers credit Burch with bridging the gap between Goldwater and the party’s liberal wing, helping to deliver the state and the nomination.

While Burch was a moderate, he was decidedly a Goldwater loyalist, and he rejected attacks on Goldwater for being too conservative. In response to the senator’s acceptance speech, in which he said “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” Burch put the controversy in perspective. “If Goldwater had recited the Lord’s Prayer there were certain people at the convention who were going to object to it.”

Few observers gave Goldwater a chance to win the general election against the incumbent president, Lyndon B. Johnson, the popular former Texas senator and vice president who had entered the Oval Office after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The Democrats were the majority party, and they were united behind Johnson. Goldwater had many negatives, including a small-state, western political base and an image as a right wing extremist willing to split his own party in a quixotic quest for the presidency.

Nevertheless, when the expected Democratic landslide materialized, the party establishment wanted blood. In addition to the lost presidency, many Republican congressional candidates had been buried in the landslide alongside Senator Goldwater. Burch’s own moderate Republicanism was lost in his association with Goldwater and the stridency of the conservative movement. Cries for Burch’s scalp came from far and wide, and Burch agreed to play sacrificial lamb in the interest of the party. Indeed, some observers believe that Burch’s willingness to step aside amicably helped pave the way for party unity in 1968, when Richard M. Nixon was able to retake the White House for the Republicans. In 1965 Burch returned to his law practice in Tucson. He maintained his close ties to Goldwater, managing the senator’s reelection campaign in 1968.

A year later Burch was once again summoned to Washington. In 1969 President Nixon named Burch chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). During his tenure Burch made tough speeches focusing on children’s television programming, denouncing much of the content as “just chewing gum for the eyes.” The networks took notice, and Burch’s campaign was influential in improving children’s television. Burch was less successful in pressuring the networks to cover Nixon favorably.

Burch served as FCC chairman until 1974, when he was appointed counselor to the president, a post with cabinet rank. He retained that post under President Gerald Ford, leaving at the end of 1975 to join the Washington law firm of Pierson, Ball, and Dowd as a partner. Burch specialized in communication law but kept his hand in presidential politics. He helped guide President Ford’s successful run for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination.

Burch was also a friend and political ally of the former congressman and Central Intelligence Agency director George Bush, serving as the vice presidential campaign’s chief of staff after Bush was named Ronald Reagan’s running mate in 1980. Burch also served as liaison between the Reagan and Bush organizations during the transition to the White House. During Bush’s 1988 campaign for the White House, Burch was an adviser on the general election and in dealing with conservative forces within the Republican party.

Chronicling the connection between Bush and Goldwater, Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote that Burch “took the issues seriously, but was wonderfully irreverent about himself.”

Burch stepped down from Pierson, Ball, and Dowd in 1987 to become director general of INTELSAT, the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, a cooperative representing more than 100 countries that operates the satellite network transmitting most of the world’s international telephone calls and television broadcasts. Burch was nominated by the U.S. government and confirmed by INTELSAT’s assembly, made up of representatives of all member countries.

Burch was director general of INTELSAT until he died at the age of sixty-three, of bladder cancer. He was survived by his wife, Patricia; two daughters, Shelly Burch Bennett and Dianne Ruth Burch Butterfield; a son, Dean A. Burch; and a grandson. Burch was an important figure in Republican party politics for a quarter-century and, at his death, one of the most respected and influential communications officials in the world.

A number of books chronicle the controversial 1964 presidential campaign of the archconservative Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater, including Theodore H. White, The Maying of the President 1964 (1965), and Stephen Shadegg, What Happened to Gold- water? The Inside Story of the 1964 Republican Campaign (1965). There are also several Goldwater biographies, including Lee Edwards, Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution (1995), Robert Alan Goldberg, Barry Goldwater (1995), and the senator’s own memoirs, Goldwater, with Jack Casserly (1988). While details of Burch’s role in Goldwater’s senate office and presidential campaigns are sprinkled throughout these volumes, unfortunately, a truly satisfying portrait of Dean Burch, the man, fails to emerge. Obituaries appear in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 5 Aug. 1991) and Time (19 Aug. 1991).

Timothy Kringen