For five years, former senator George Smathers was paid $300,000 annually to represent the South African government. But that decision was costly to him, both in clients and in partners who left his law firm. Finally, smarting under continuing heavy criticism, Smathers severed all connections with the South African government on April 1.

"We both ended up being disappointed with the arrangement," the Florida Democrat explained yesterday. "They [South Africa] were disappointed we couldn't get the [U.S.] government's pressure off their backs about apartheid, and we were disappointed in them that they were unable to make the moves to eliminate apartheid as they [told Smathers] they would."

During the years his firm represented South Africa, Smathers said, that association caused the loss of his partners Sydney Herlong and former congressman James Symington. While Symington was a partner he had an opportunity to become a director of Riggs National Bank, but rejected the offer after threatened antiapartheid demonstrations. Smathers said representing South Africa also cost him major foreign clients such as the Mexico City Chamber of Commerce, the Venezuelan sugar industry and the Panamanian government.

Smathers was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, the same year John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were elected to Congress. Smathers was a close friend of Kennedy and was best man at his wedding. Smathers said he took the South African account because he thought his experience in the racially troubled South of the 1940s and '50s could help him bring an understanding to the situation.

End Notes

Author Norman Mailer, who at the 48th annual PEN conference in January casually explained away the dearth of women panelists by saying, "There are more men who are deeply interested in intellectual matters than women," last week welcomed a woman writer to succeed him as president of PEN. The new president is novelist Hortense Calisher, who becomes PEN's first woman president since the late poet Muriel Rukeyser was elected in 1975. Calisher is the author of 10 novels, most recently "Mysteries of Motion" and "The Bobby-Soxer." She is a longtime member of the PEN executive board . . .

Former congressman Fred Schwengel, who founded the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, was honored by the congressional leadership last night at a reception in the House Ways and Means Committee room. House Speaker Tip O'Neill presented a scroll signed by the congressional leadership to Schwengel citing his contributions to the society he has been the president of since 1962. The reception was also in recognition of Schwengel's 80th birthday. The masters of ceremony at the reception were Reps. Jake Pickle and Bill Frenzel. Among the guests were House Majority Leader Jim Wright, House Minority Leader Bob Michel and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole . . .

The Lyndon LaRouche supporter who traded punches with television talk show host Phil Donahue May 11 agreed Monday to drop criminal charges. But William Ferguson, 24, said he is considering suing Donahue. The dismissal of the simple assault and harassment charges hinged on Donahue's promise not to file countercharges. Donahue did not appear in court but his spokeswoman Penny Roteiser said, "We have no intention of pursuing this." The two men came to blows after a bout of name calling at LaGuardia Airport, where Ferguson was handing out literature in support of nuclear power . . .

Two Virginia Military Institute classmates of Steven J. McAuliffe, the husband of Christa McAuliffe, flew to Boston last week to present McAuliffe with a replacement for the class ring worn by his wife when she died in the Challenger explosion. The inscription in the ring from attorney L. Neil Steverson and Dr. Thomas S. Cooke read, "To Steve, in memory of Christa, from your Brother Rats." The ring was never recovered but NASA did recover part of a necklace that belonged to McAuliffe and a stuffed frog that belonged to her son . . .