A farewell after 60 Monitor years

As I say goodbye and thank you to readers who have stuck with me over the many years, my abiding hope is that they will remember me as a fair observer. As I began my reporting career in the early 1950s, I pasted a slip of paper on my Royal typewriter. It bore this reminder. "Try to be fair." Dear readers, I have tried!

My editors have asked me to look back on the highlights of my nearly 60 years with the Monitor. But to do that, I must - yes, in fairness - point out that the Monitor's reputation for integrity was always an essential ingredient in anything I achieved. The Monitor opened doors. And in a sense I piggy backed on the reputation of such Monitor journalistic champions as Erwin Canham, Richard Strout, Joseph Harsch, and Roscoe Drummond, who did much to build the Monitor's standing.

As I look back many memories of my Monitor life drift through my thoughts:

• Sitting next to John F. Kennedy for an entire day in 1959 as he flew to Wisconsin and Nebraska in his private plane, I was there as he filed papers to get into the presidential primaries in those states. After first talking about "growing up" reading the Monitor, he said he wanted our readers to know that as president he'd assiduously maintain the separation of church from state. Underscoring this, he said no Catholic priest would ever influence him.

• Interviewing Harry Truman in Independence, Mo., shortly after he left the presidency, I asked about a subject he'd not cleared up yet: "How did you make up your mind to drop the atomic bomb?" "Easy," he said, all he had to do was learn from his generals that the bomb would save thousands of US troops' lives. He gave his approval and "went to bed and got a good eight hours sleep."

• Dwight Eisenhower had become a hero of mine when I was in the military in World War II, so I even may have saluted him when I was ushered in to see him in retirement at Gettysburg. But the genial "Ike," talking about playing golf after leaving me, quickly put me at ease. He didn't make much news, but my main memory is he didn't think much of then-President Lyndon Johnson.

• I snagged a much-sought-after interview with "Mr. Republican" Barry Goldwater toward the end of the Watergate scandal when Nixon was still hanging on by his fingernails. Goldwater told me with anger that he and GOP leaders wanted the disgraced Nixon to step down. Nixon never recovered from that blow.

• I got to ask the new president, Gerald Ford, the question all the reporters meeting with him a few days after he took office wanted to ask. When he turned to me shortly after reaching the podium, I asked: "What are you going to do to see to it there are no more Watergates?" He said he'd post a code of ethics on the walls of those working in his administration and see it was adhered to.

• I was invited - with my wife Betty - to a dinner with President and Mrs. Carter in their private White House dining room - along with a handful of journalists and spouses. The Carters made us feel at home, showing us all around - with Jimmy pointing out "high points" like where Churchill sat in a tub talking with FDR, and the rug on which Nixon pulled Kissinger down to pray with him during Watergate. At that get-together shortly after the Camp David Accords had been negotiated, Mr. Carter disclosed to us that he'd reached an "understanding" with Menachem Begin that would halt the Israeli settlements. Of course, that halt never happened.

• Ron and Nancy Reagan let me ride with them in their old Chevrolet as they toured California back in 1966, testing the waters for a run for governor. Years later, Reagan gave the first interview of his presidency to me and James Reston of The New York Times.

• Sitting on the rear platform of the George McGovern presidential campaign train, I got a scoop for the Monitor from the Democratic candidate: He told me who'd be in his cabinet if he were elected.

• When George W. Bush first described himself as a "compassionate conservative," the press thought it had heard something new. Not so. He got it from Dad, who'd used it first when, on "Meet the Press" in 1979, I'd asked the elder Bush what "vision" he'd bring to the presidency if elected.

• President Clinton invited me - along with my family and the breakfast group - to the White House in 1995 to mark my 80th birthday. I now look up from my typweriter - yes, I still use an old Royal - at a photo of Mr. Clinton, with Al Gore, leading the group in "Happy Birthday" as my wife serves me a piece of a giant-sized birthday cake.

And so it's time to say "goodbye." Some heartfelt gratitude is in order. To wife Betty, always at my side, my mainstay - keeping the family going while I was on the campaign trails. And to my children, Mary and John, who kept close and supportive to a father often on the road for months.

I often think about a family decision making discussion we had back in the '50s when I was working for the Monitor in Chicago. A newsmagazine had made me a very tempting job offer. I told my family we'd be able to afford some things we couldn't afford then.

At that, teenager Mary spoke with a sob: "But Daddy, we've always been a Monitor family."

That ended the discussion. The subject never came up again.

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