A few trends ago, as Touch Football was dying and Tennis was taking hold, Butch Staubs got a call from a man who was a trend unto himself: Henry Kissinger.
It seemed the Secretary of State had taken notice of an expanding waistline.
Was there ever a problem Kissinger did not itch to solve? He was prepared to rejigger a few minutes of his busy schedule so he could deflate his spare tire, Super K told Butch. A few discreet inquiries around the State Department revealed that Staubs was the man to see on questions of fitness. So would Butch please have an exercise treadmill delivered to Kissinger's office? Like, right away?
"Yeah, sure, hell, yeah, I did it," said Staubs one recent afternoon, as he sucked up the last drops of a wicked Coke ("I love'em") through a straw. "And after he left office, you know what happened? They called me to come get it and it was completely covered with dust.
"He had never used it-not once."
Well, win some, lose some-it's been the State Department's unofficial motto since at least Valey Forge. But if 32-year-old Ralph Staubs has anything to say about it-and he does-losing the fitness battle is becoming as rare around State as a moment of Kissinger humility.
Staubs, a medic, is in charge of keeping American diplomats away from early coronary deaths. As supervisor of State's cardiology unit, he must certify that every "official American" heading for an assignment abroad-every ambassador, foreign service officer and, yes, spy-has a healthy heart.
If Butch doesn't like the way you beat, you stay in Foggy Bottom, pal, Period.
But Staubs' job is every bit as much to get hearts in shape as to find fault with them. He does this in his second-floor clinic with an exercise treadmill that leaves 'em gasping-and with a stream of homespun, heartfelt, I-know-what's best-for-you advice that was won him a nickname: the State Department's Jewish mother.
"You're always cajoling," says Butch. "Eat less. Run a little. Stop smoking and drinking. I push 'em, prod 'em, tell 'em 'Oyvay.' Whatever works."
Butch Staubs' common-sense approach is what works, to judge from a recent State Department study.
It monitored 615 overseas-bound State Department employes. All had been placed on a strict regimen of diet and exercise between 1970 and 1973 by their favorite Jewish mother.
The study found the group's heart attack risk level "superior to that of a group of similar age from industry, business or management fields."
What that means in English is: None of the group's members died of a heart attack in the three years the State study covered. In the "normal" population, taking similar age and stress into account, about a dozen sudden coronary deaths could have been expected.
Such numbers are all the more remarkable when you consider who Staubs has been dealing with.
Not only have diplomats been known to be workaholics more than occasionally, but they perform a lot of their diplomacy through jaws that are permanently damanged from munching gooey canapes.
Besides, can you imagine one of Our Boys out for a morning jog through the streets of Tehran? At the very least, he might sully the seriousness of Uncle Sam's image.
Mother Staubs is here to assure us, however, that our dipolmats are running these and other risks, safely and often.
"I think it's an attitude thing more than anything else," Staubs said. "Before they go into the field, we try to impress on them here that they should at least think about taking care of themselves. A lot of them obviously have."
Staubs has seen any number of diplomats pass his treadmill test for the third and fourth time before going for a new post. While they are not guite ready to repopulate the National Football League, "you'd be amazed at some of the progress."
True to form, the one guy who never made any progress was Henry the K.
"We got the word he wanted to come in on a Saturday," Staubs recalled. "But he cancelled for three straight Saturdays. He was in Israel, I think. Or maybe it was China.
"Anyway, we finally get him in here and I buckle him up to the (treadmill) machine. I didn't know what to expect. Most people walke about eight minutes. If you can last 10, you're in fair shape. Fifteen, you're in good shape.
"But Kissinger, he walked about two minutes on the thing and stopped. Said he didn't want to exercise any more." Butch didn't press the issue, either. Even a Jewish mother knows the boss is always right.
Kissinger's departure from State has measurably reduced cardiac danger among other senior staff, Staubs believes.
"We used to get 35-year-old assistant secretaries in here with wll the preliminary signs (of heart disease)," he said. "Especially stuff that was the result of stress.
"I'd tell them they had to slow down and they'd say, 'I can't. If I slow down, there's five guys ready to take may place.'"
Under Cyrus Vance, "the top staff is much better," said Staubs, although Vance himself has not been in Staubs' clinic yet. "Far as I know, though, his heart is sound."
Butch Staubs has heard all the excuses. He has told dozens of folks that, no, the treadmill was not captured from the Viet Cong. He has looked skeptically at hard-chargers who tried to tell him that eating better was for other people. He could write the book on reasons not to jog.
But he has also seen men in their 50s who were doing everything wrong five years ago and who can't wait to hop up on the treadmill today.
"When a man tells you he's never felt better in his life, it kind of brings it all together," says the Jewish mother. "No amount of chicken soup could do anything like that." CAPTION: Picture, State Department medic Butch Staubs in his lab.Steve Feldman is on the treadmill. By Craig Herndon-The Washington Post