Alvin David, 95, Social Security executive, policy maker who helped develop Medicare

February 26, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Alvin M. David, a retired Social Security executive who was an architect of Medicare and other programs that extended benefits to broad categories of wage earners, died of a stroke Thursday at his Chicago home. He was 95 and had lived in Ellicott City and, earlier, Windsor Hills before retiring about 30 years ago.

As the Social Security Administration's chief policy maker in its formative years, he was part of a team credited with developing all of its major milestones.

"He was one of the very small group of people primarily responsible for the development of the American Social Security system," said former SSA Commissioner Robert Ball of Alexandria, Va.

"Although he was little known to the public," Mr. Ball said, "he made major contributions, helping to add survivors' insurance, disability insurance and Medicare to the program -- and extending coverage to just about every worker in the country. He was also a close personal friend who was a great help to me."

"He was a sensitive and thoughtful man who was gracious and charming," said Larry DeWitt, an SSA historian who lives in Woodlawn. "He was the chief policy person at the agency. He advised key committees in Congress on pending legislation and did the same for [presidential] administrations. He was an influential voice in Social Security policy for his entire 35-year career with the agency."

Born in Chicago, where he graduated from the University of Chicago in 1929, he was a salesman and accountant before moving to Washington in 1933 and joining the National Recovery Administration, the centerpiece agency of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal package of federal programs designed to combat effects of the Depression.

When a Supreme Court decision killed the recovery administration, Mr. David became a Railroad Retirement Board staff member for a brief period. In October 1936, he joined the staff of the Social Security Board, a little more than a year after Congress passed the Social Security Act.

After moving to Baltimore in the 1930s, he played pivotal roles in the expansion of coverage -- his work interrupted only by World War II service in the Army Medical Corps.

In the 1950s, he was part of a group effort that extended disability coverage to include more people. He helped develop Medicare in 1965 and Supplemental Security Income, known as SSI, in 1972. He also worked with others to create the automatic annual cost-of-living adjustment.

"He was a man of quiet dignity. He expected a lot of persons who worked for him," said Christine Vance, a former secretary who is now an SSA policy analyst. "He was a cultured man, well traveled, who loved classical music and photography."

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

His wife of more than 50 years, Linda Whitney, died in 1995. He is survived by a daughter, Joan David of Chicago.

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