March 17, 2009

Former Cabinet member Brinegar dies

Claude S. Brinegar, the U.S. Transportation secretary who helped pass a national speed limit of 55 mph, has died of natural causes at age 82, his family said.

Appointed to the Cabinet by U.S. President Richard Nixon at the start of his second term in 1972, Brinegar was the nation's third Transportation secretary.

He earned a doctorate at Stanford University but had no government experience when he took the post. When asked about his qualifications, he once replied, I've flown a million miles in the last seven years and I've sat on the Harbor Freeway for hours in traffic jams, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

The 55 mph law came in the summer of 1974, during the Arab oil embargo in which began the previous October. The measure, meant to save 200,000 barrels of gasoline daily, didn't sit well with the public. It was repealed in 1995.

Brinegar was born in Rockport, Calif., in 1926. He received his doctorate from Stanford in applied economics in 1954.

He was senior vice president of Union Oil Co. when Nixon chose him for the Cabinet post.

He is survived by his third wife, Karen Bartholomew, three children from his first marriage and four grandchildren the Times said.