Alfred William Tate, 98, career civil servant

The year was 1959 and Bill Tate, who grew up in a small town in Alabama and worked for the Veterans Administration in Washington and the Philippines in the years after World War II, was returning home to the Deep South in the middle of the civil rights movement.

Tate was the newly appointed director of the VA (now known as Veterans Affairs) office in Atlanta. His mission was made clear when a new president, John Kennedy, took office: Hire more blacks.

Over the next few years under Tate’s direction the Atlanta office that employed one black on a staff of about 600 when he took the job, hired scores more minorities across all pay grades, Tate recalled in his memoir.

Tate was one of 12 members appointed by Kennedy to the Federal Executive Board to accelerate minority hiring across all federal agencies.

If there were any doubts about Kennedy’s intentions -- and whether the president was paying attention -- they were dispelled when Tate met the president at the White House in July 1963.

“He more or less stated that he was watching us and that he expected results,” Tate wrote. “Our jobs depended on our increasing the number of African-Americans in the U.S. Government.”

What else struck Tate about his meeting with the president? “[Kennedy] was not as big a man as I had imagined him to be, [and] was sharply dressed in an Italian-style business suit,” Tate wrote.

Alfred William ("Bill") Tate, born December 16, 1912, in Newton, Ala., died July 4 in Greensboro after a brief illness. He was 98. Memorial services are 11 a.m. Monday at McCommons Chapel, 109 W. Broad St. Street, in Greensboro.

His family remembered him as a career civil servant, as a charming but quiet man who, in the turbulence of the times, worked behind the scenes to ease a region’s transition from segregation to integration.

Through the 1960s he worked with Georgia and Atlanta agencies to improve job opportunities for blacks and became closely allied with Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen. Historians credit Allen for keeping the peace while other Southern cities were torn by civil rights violence.

“He knew Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen extremely well, but he never saw him socially, it wasn’t like that,” daughter Martha Roberts said. “He knew him from their working together during the civil rights movement in Atlanta.”

Tate earned a law degree from George Washington University in 1940, but never practiced. He served in the Navy during the last year of World War II before landing a job with the Veterans Administration, where he worked his entire career. When he retired in 1976, he received a commendation from the Georgia House of Representatives for his years of service.

His daughter said his death on the Fourth of July could not have been more poignant.

“He devoted his whole life and career to veterans and I remember waking up that morning thinking he only has about a day or two more to live, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be neat if he died today?'”