Let's sing of breakfasts past - one last time

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On a number of occasions since I exited as host of the Monitor breakfast, people have asked about this morning get-together of press and public figures. The most frequent questions: How did it get started? What do you do? What makes the breakfast different?

Frankly, I never have figured out how I got mixed up in this breakfast business. Back in the late 1970s, that well-known, Hollywood-connected writer Nora Ephron got me to provide this explanation as she put together a story about our group for Esquire Magazine and her book, "Scribble Scribble:"

"I've been engulfed by this thing. I can't tell if I'm running it or it's running me. This week I didn't want five breakfasts, but I must admit I can't say no. This is a sideline that occupies me, interests me, irritates me. If anyone had said to me, the thing you'll be remembered for is your breakfast group, I would have gone into another career. A breakfast group?"

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Keeping the breakfast going was no picnic. It was something I had to do besides covering politics and presidents and, for years, running a news bureau. But I soon found that I was picking up a lot of stories for my paper from the breakfasts. Also, as bureau chief, I needed to keep informed on subjects that others in the bureau were covering.

The story of how the breakfasts got started has been told and retold. But for those who missed it, I'll do it again, briefly.

I didn't set up a group. I just had a breakfast. And it wasn't even a breakfast. It was a lunch. Chuck Percy was coming to Washington as a new senator and he didn't know people in the press. So I called up a few of those I traveled with on the campaign trails.

That breakfast made a lot of ripples as Senator Percy told of his plans to run for president. I had another. And another. The second year I did it, people started saying, "You've got something this city needs." I said, "I can't imagine it." But I kept having them.

Back when Ms. Ephron sat in on breakfasts on succeeding mornings with West Virginia Gov. Jay Rockefeller, Illinois Gov. James Thompson, Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal, White House Counsel Robert Lipshutz, and Budget Director Bert Lance, we had reached a total of 800 morning sessions.

When, at the first of this year, I finally said goodbye to bacon and eggs and grilled politicians - from the host's seat - we had had well over 3,000 early-morning adventures in stimulating discourse. But no tears! I'm going to keep coming now and then. But now - at long last - someone else, Washington bureau chief David Cook (one of "my boys"), will keep the breakfast going - and prospering.

One aspect that has gone by largely unnoticed is the flexibility in scheduling. Something big happens, and we can set up a breakfast for the next morning. That quick response has made us different from other groups, which schedule well in advance.

Back in the '70s, I had a call from George Wallace's press secretary. He said the Alabama governor, suffering from gunshot wounds after an assassination attempt, would like to meet with us - for supper that evening and in his Washington Hilton bedroom. So the group, which had already convened for breakfast and lunch that day, trooped over for a 6 p.m. dinner at Governor Wallace's bedside. We never had that many "breakfasts" in one day again.

Once when Vice President Humphrey was our guest at one of the many Monitor breakfasts he attended, I saw California Gov. Jerry Brown coming into the hotel and, on the spur of the moment, asked him to follow Humphrey for a lunch. And he did.

Once at a governors' conference, I caught up with California Gov. Ronald Reagan as he was speeding out of a meeting on his way to lunch. I asked him if he would meet with our group "sometime soon." He said, "How about now?"

So, I quickly rounded up a number of reporters from the group who were there at the conference. Within minutes, we were sitting down with Mr. Reagan in his hotel room, talking about his plans to run for president.

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