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DEAN W. COSTON


COSTON DEAN W. COSTON Dean Walter Coston died November 1, 2013 at his home in Greenspring Village, Springfield, Virginia. The cause of death was respiratory failure. Mr. Coston had a distinguished career in public service and politics, serving in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. His tenure featured some of the most significant legislative enactments of that era, notably the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendments of 1962; the Drug Abuse Control Act; the Clean Air Act; and the Public Broadcasting Act. As reported in a review of Michael McCauley's book, "NPR," in the July 17, 2005 New York Times: Through the predawn hours of a Sunday morning in the late winter of 1967, a former radio engineer named Dean Coston bent alongside an aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, inspecting every sentence of a bill headed for Congress. The primary goal of the legislation was to create a public television system in the United States, an intelligent, uplifting alternative to the perceived wasteland of commercial broadcasting. But Coston, a Deputy Undersecretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, was determined to include radio, too, as an object of federal approval and federal dollars. He literally cut and pasted the words "and radio" into every relevant passage of the bill, the insertion betrayed even on photocopies by the font from a different typewriter. In that moment of inspired improvisation, the media giant of public radio was born. Dean Coston was born July 28, 1923 in Salamanca, New York, the son of Walter Best Coston and Grace Bourne Coston. He married his Hornell High School sweetheart, Kathryn Moran Coston, in 1944. Their romance flourished in the school band hall, where she played alto saxophone and he the clarinet. Music would play an important part in Mr. Coston's life, as he was a member of both the University of Michigan Marching Band and the house band of the Washington professional football team. In later years, he entertained and educated his neighbors at Greenspring Village with musical programs featuring Broadway tunes, jazz, classical music, and opera. Mr. Coston received an undergraduate degree from the School of Education of the University of Michigan in 1948, following military service in World War II as a Tech Sergeant in the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps, and as a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, responsible for the care of certain Italian Prisoners of War. Following graduation, he and his family settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he worked for the University of Michigan from 1948 to 1960, including a stint as chief engineer at the University-owned radio station, WUOM. It was that radio service, with an emphasis on using the public frequency for educational purposes, which brought him together with Wilbur Cohen, then the professor of public welfare administration at the University of Michigan and an ardent Democrat. When President Kennedy in 1961 appointed Mr. Cohen as the Assistant Secretary for Legislation for HEW, Mr. Cohen asked Mr. Coston to join him in Washington, D.C. to help promote public television and public radio as part of John F. Kennedy's New Frontier - later evolving into Lyndon Baines Johnson's Great Society. Mr. Coston's tenure on the Ann Arbor City Council had helped prepare him for the political whirl of Washington, D.C. His career started at HEW as a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Legislation. He eventually rose to be a Deputy Assistant Secretary, then a Deputy Undersecretary, and finally the Acting Undersecretary of that sprawling government agency. While there, he helped get through Congress significant clean air and public health legislation, including drafting the initial health warnings on cigarette packages. He received a Distinguished Service Award at HEW for his accomplishments. Following his service at HEW, he served on the staff of the House Administration Committee and ran several consulting businesses, with clients drawn to his expertise on communications and environmental matters. He retired in 1999 when he and his wife moved to Greenspring Village. He continued his lifelong passions for music, politics, sailing, and genealogy until his death. Mr. Coston was predeceased by his wife, Kathryn. He is survived by four children: Karen (Hartmut); Michael (Un Sun); William (Barbara) and Grace (Serge). He leaves behind five grandchildren: Matt, Laura (Jason), William, Elizabeth, and Nick. And he is survived by two great-grandchildren, Zoe and Zander. A memorial celebration of his life will be held at Greenspring Village Chapel on Wednesday, November 27 at 11 a.m. Private inurnment at Arlington National Military Cemetery at a date yet to be determined. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that charitable donations be made in his name to: National Public Radio (http://www.npr.org/stations/donate/index.php?ps=200), or University of Michigan Marching Band (https://leadersandbest.umich.edu/find/#/give/basket/fund/303403).University of Michigan Marching Band (https://leadersandbest.umich.edu/find/#/give/basket/fund/303403).


Published in The Washington Post on Nov. 17, 2013
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