Odom Olin Fanning, Washington-based science writer, died onMay 8, 2011, of pneumonia and heart failure. He was 90 years old. Over a longcareer, Mr. Fanning was an advocate of civil rights in the South, a writer forthe federal government on public health, environmental policy, and marinesciences, and a journalist reporting on public health, medical, marine science,and environmental protection issues. Mr.Fanning was previously a science reporter for the Atlanta Journal and the first public information officer for the Centersfor Disease Control and Prevention.
Mr. Fanning was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 8, 1920,the son of Odom O. Fanning, M.D., a general practitioner, and Susie Sandiford,a kindergarten teacher. He graduatedwith a B.A. in journalism from Emory University in 1942 and began his career asa reporter for the Atlanta Journal. During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S.Marine Corps in January 1943, serving as a combat correspondent on Guam. He was present in the press office on Guam whenthe iconic image by A.P. photographer Joe Rosenthal of the raising of theAmerican flag on Mount Suribachi arrived.
After the war, Mr. Fanning returned to the Atlanta Journal staff, covering city hallduring the tenure of long-time Mayor William B. Hartsfield. He helped organize and served as the firstpresident of the Atlanta chapter of the American Veterans Committee (AVC), thefirst major interracial organization in Atlanta. The chapter quickly grew to about 500 members,some 200 of whom were black. When thesegregationist Ku Klux Klan began infiltrating the monthly meetings, takingnames and photographing attendees, Mr. Fanning turned to Mayor Hartsfield foradvice. Hartsfield asked one question: "Is the AVC a legitimate veterans'organization, free of any ties to the Communist party?" Mr. Fanning assured him it was and the mayorsaid, "I'll take care of it." Thereafter, a police officer was assigned to attend each meeting and theKlan's surveillance ceased.
The major goal of the AVC was to fight racialsegregation. The Atlanta members contactedthe chief executives of retail stores asking them to desegregate theirrestrooms and drinking fountains; Mr. Fanning wrote the CEO of Sears, Roebuck, thelargest department store in Atlanta and in two weeks Sears desegregated thedrinking fountains in the Atlanta store.
Mr. Fanning also was the organizer and first president ofthe Atlanta professional chapter of Sigma Delta Chi (now the Society ofProfessional Journalists). He createdthe Chapter's Green Eyeshade Awards program, which remains the largest regionaljournalism competition in the U.S., covering eleven Southern states.
Mr. Fanning became science editor of the Atlanta Journal in 1945, winning awards for hiscoverage of medical research and of the state's deplorable mental health system,including an expose of Georgia's sole public mental health hospital, inMilledgeville. The Milledgeville hospital was the world's largest mentalhospital, with 12,000 patients but no more than 10-15 physicians. Exposes of the conditions at the hospital byMr. Fanning and others led to reorganization of the state's mental healthsystem.
Mr. Fanning also covered the reorganization of a federalwartime malaria control program and its expansion into what is known today asthe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); in 1951 he became firstpublic information officer of the CDC. Inaddition to issuing news releases and assisting journalists in covering healthissues, Mr. Fanning participated with CDC's epidemiologists in programs tocontrol fly-borne diseases such as diarrhea and mosquito-borne diseases such asmalaria.
In the 1950s and early 1960s Mr. Fanning served as scienceeditor for three leading institutions: theGeorgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta; the Midwest Research Institute, inKansas City, Missouri; and CBS Labs, in Stamford, Connecticut. In 1965, Mr. Fanning moved to Washington,D.C., and joined the Commerce Department as Special Assistant to the AssistantSecretary for Science and Technology. AsSpecial Assistant to the Undersecretary of Commerce, he supervised legislativeand public information programs concerning oceanography and assisted with theestablishment of the Environmental Science Services Administration. He served as public affairs officer of theNational Council on Marine Resources and Engineering Development in the WhiteHouse.
During his federal career, Mr. Fanning was twice assigned tothe Executive Office of the President, first to coordinate the publication ofPresident Johnson's Second Annual Reporton Marine Science Affairs (1968) and then as editor-in-chief of the First Annual Report on Environmental Quality(1970) for President Nixon's Council on Environmental Quality, the first publicationto discuss "environmental racism", the enactment of policies or regulationsthat harm the living conditions of poor or minority communities at adisproportionate rate.
Mr. Fanning joined the Energy Department at its creation in1977 where he managed the Emergency Building Temperature Restrictions program,which encouraged a reduction in energy consumption in federal and otherbuildings through voluntary lowering of thermostat settings. After retiring from the government in 1983, hewrote a consumer newsletter and syndicated consumer column for several years andthen served as the Washington editor for several medical publications,including Internal Medicine World Reportand as the Washington correspondent for the American College of Cardiology.
Mr. Fanning was the author of three books: Opportunitiesin Oceanographic Careers (1969), Opportunitiesin Environmental Careers (1971) and Manand His Environment: Citizen Action(1975).
Mr. Fanning was a fellow of the American Association for theAdvancement of Science and a long-time member of the National Press Club. A member of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Churchsince 1965, he served as deacon, established the church's Men's Fellowshipprogram, and, in 1965, co-founded Bethesda Help, a non-profit organizationcomprised of volunteers from many Bethesda churches and synagogues whichprovides emergency food and shelter and arranges for the payment of medical,prescription, and utility bills for people in need.
Mr. Fanning is survived by his wife, Elaine M. Fanning, twodaughters, and three grandchildren.