Ordinarily, I avoid going to farewell dinners. I hate to see the old guys go down the tube.

However, Maurice Cullinane is the kind of man for whom many people make exceptions. Some 1,200 of us crowded into the Washington Hilton's ballroom Saturday night for a testimonial to our former police chief. Even Mayor Walter E. Washington showed up - for a while.

Several years ago, Cullie was hit in the knee by a missile thrown by a "demonstrator." I have never been able to figure out what political principle a demonstrator demonstrates when he throws rocks at the police. Whatever it is, we expect our policemen to take such abuse without losing their tempers. Those who sit i at home and watch riots on TV always have more self-discipline than the policemen who are being pelted.

But I digress. Cullie's knee had been getting worse instead of better, and the pains began recurring more frequently and lasting longer. So he finally gave up and retired, claiming a service-related disability that entitled him to a tax-free pension.

Thereafter much was written about questionable disability pensions. I heard no challenge to the legitimacy of Cullie's injury, but a lot of questions were asked about disability pensions in general. It was noted, for example, that 82 per cent of our policemen were judged to be disable when they retired; but many of these disabled people immediately took new jobs, and thereafter maintained vigorous levels of public and private activity.

Mayor Washington made what our news story called "an emotional defense" of Cullie and the disability system under which he retired. The Mayor also had a lot of other things to say, most ot them in praise of the former chief, and all of them things a man would say if he were running hard for re-election.

As the Mayor finished, he handed Cullie a citation and explained why there was no need to read it aloud: "It just says everything I've been saying, except that I said it better." Cullie laughed and when it was time for him to respond he said, "Regardless of what you may have heard, I didn't make a single mistake during my entire career on the police department - and if you don't believe me, just ask my mother."

In the serious portion of his remarks, Cullie said he was grateful that crime had been reduced significantly during his tenure. He asked the city's residents to keep in mind that crime isn't reduced by a police chief; it is reduced by an entire police department that has won the respect and cooperation of its community.

When the speeches were finished, most of the guests had a chance to chat among themselves, but I couldn't get a word in edgewise with Judge Luke Moore, who was at our table. Moore and my son were busy reviewing a long list of cops-and-robbers stories that dated back to Moore's years as the United States Marshal here.

Much the same kind of talk was going on at other tables. Many of the people in the room had grown old together and had a genuine concern about each other. For example, former Fire Chief Hugh Groves wanted to know how I felt and when I was going to retire. Recently retired Fire Chief Burton Johnson recommended retirement, which has freed him to do volunteer work for nonprofit agencies. Toastmaster Bill Mayhugh said he was glad to see me up and around, and asked when I was going to retire. "It's Academic" quizmaster Mac McGarry wanted to know if I should be up so late, and asked when I was going to retire. Clarence Arata, himself retired from the Board of Trade, said, "You know, I admire the way you old guys hang in there." Retired detective Bob Denell said, "Man, if you've given up cigars those doctors must have really scared you." The only one who didn't ask me when I was going to retire was our new police chief, Burtell Jefferson. He just said,"Gosh, I sure am looking forward to my retirement." But there was a twinkle in his eye when he said it, thank goodness.

One of the most interesting sights of the night was the attention City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Councilman Marion Barry gave to the Mayor's give-'em-hell campaign speech. Both candidates for the Mayor's job applauded politely when the Mayor finished. Afterward I asked Tucker, "How come they didn't give you and Marion equal time to answer the Mayor's campaign speech?"

Tucker blinked innocently and asked, "Was that a campaign speech?"

You'd better believe it, friend. You three guys are in a horse race.