After spending 36-years slaving over a hot typewriter (and loving every minute of it), John Cramer, the Washington Star's popular federal columnist is going into semi-retirement.
John's long career (begun with the old Washington Daily News in 1941) covers alot of ground. He leaves a trail of delightful writing, top investigative reporting, and a legion of sadder but wiser federal officials who felt his wrath. And lots of friends and admirers. He's the dean of the crew of writers who cover government workers. John did it longer, and better than most.
For lots of people in and out of government it is sad that John is pulling the plug. The good news, however, is that he will write a column every Sunday in the Star. His colleague, Joseph Young, will do the Federal Column Tuesday through Saturday.
Cramer tilted against the federal windmill in his lively column in the old Daily News until it merged with the Star in 1972. Crooked, dumb or pompous federal officials would tremble as they opened the tabloid to page 2, where JOhn always called it the way he saw it. Often the Daily News would make it easier with abanner headline to find his column.
John was usually for the underdog, and always for good government. He is credited with killing off a number of plans and legislative proposals that would have hurt government workers, or given undue benefits to officials.
At least two pieces of legislation dealing with the civil service are unofficially called "The Cramer Act" and "The Cramer Amendment" because he pushed them into law. President Johnson once invited him to the White House for the signing of the "Cramer" law, along with the members of Congress who agreed that John had done more than the rest of them put together.
A major news magazine once decided to do a feature on Cramer. They wanted to find out what made the popular, and durable, columnist tick. A researcher asked what his philosophy was. How he could cover the government daily for so long and maintain his sanity.
Cramer is said to have told them something like: "My philosophy is that the U.S. government is made up of some awfully good - people who are under some dreadfully bad management." Regular readers of the column know he never strayed from that philosophy, protecting the little people and deflating the big ones.
"John Cramer gave me a harder time than anybody in this town," said a top General Services Administration official. "He would tear a piece out of my hide regularly. But nobody was more honest, or fair." That kind of comment keeps cropping up when friend and foe talk about John Cramer.
Despite our rivalry, John and I did collaborate on a research project in the mid-1960s. It lasted for several years. The place was a 14th street NW restaurant called the Dolphin, located almost exactly between the Post and News buildings. The original building, unmarked by any plaque to our research, remains.
The purpose of our studies was to determine the effects of certain selected distilled beverages on the brains of two Americans of Irish descent. We did it without compensation and today ask no praise for whatever humble contribution to science we might have made.
One day, John arrived early. He was several test tubes ahead of me.
A woman came into the restaurant. She walked over to the table, littered with olives, onions, lemon rinds and paraphernalia for stirring liquids. She stopped, studied John for a moment and said:
"Pardon me, aren't you John Cramer?"
(In those days, the Daily News ran a drawing of JOhn's profile with his column.)
"Yes ma'm," John said.
"You look exactly like your picture in the newspaper," she said.
"I know," Cramer replied. "I'm sorry."
Actually, there is no need for John to be sorry, during his 36-year war and love affair with the bureaucracy. He did nice work.
Missing Pension Checks: Two mailbags from Chicago, each with about 1,-200 federal annuity checks, have been lost en route to Washinton and Philadelphia. They were destined for retiadelphia. The were destined for retirees here and in that city who nor the 1st of the month. Postal officials, as of late Friday, didn't know what happened to the missing mailbags. The Treasury Department will issue new checks if they don't turn up over the weekend.