One of the recurring rituals at The Star was the Celebrity Lunch.

An ambassador, a Cabinet member, a new Redskins coach -- some lion of the moment -- would be entertained for an off-the-record hour or so of conversation and food, attended by the company directors, selected members of the editorial staff and reporters whose beats included the turf of the celebrity guest.

Other leading newspapers have similar social ceremonies. But lunches at The Star had their own unique quality.

For one thing, the only liquor. served was sherry -- one small glass to a customer, dispensed by the company president. This abstemiousness was not a sign of corporate frugality; one highly placed member of the board had a problem with alcohol, so, for some 20 years, everybody went on the wagon with him.

Another unique aspect of the Star launches was the presence of Sam Kauffmann, president emeritus of the company. Sam was deaf. Totally deaf. And the function of one of those present was to write a running account of the conversation for Sam's benefit, with a loudly squeaking felt-tip pen.

One memorable luncheon was that attended by Richard Milhous Nixon, who was, at the time, president of the United States. Nixon had accepted the invitation to celebrate the 90th birthday of The Star's senior political writer, Gould Lincoln, who was still writing a weekly column.

Gould was seated next to the president. After the main course, The questioning started. Nixon -- all eyes glued on him -- was holding forth about some aspect of his presidency. The only other sound in the room was the squeaking felt tip.

I happened to glance at Gould. His eyes were closed. His head was slumped on his chest. I could see no sign of breathing.

I was desperately mulling over the propriety of interrupting a president in mid-sentence to ask that he check the vital signs of the man seated next to him when Gould's eyes slowly opened, his head snapped up, and -- his nap completed -- he resumed a pose of proper reportorial attention.

Lyndon Johnson was another presidential invitee.He declined, but invited the editorial staff plus the leading political writers to the White House for a background session in the Cabinet room.

We arrived on time. Johnson was late. So we all took seats around the table and waited for LBJ to call the meeting to order.

Mary McGrory, The Star's outstanding political columnist, was seated in the secretary of state's place next to the president's chair.

Examining her surroundings with a reporter's eye for detail, Mary noticed four buttons on the edge of the Cabinet table immediately in front of the president's chair. These, she thought, must be THE buttons, those legendary objects that, with the push of a presidential finger, would send the missiles on their way.

She bent closer to examine the labels, expecting to see "Moscow" and "Peking," and perhaps "Havana" and "Hanoi."

The labels read "Coca-Cola," "7-up," Diet Pepsi" and "Coffee."