Odessa Ferguson has been on Capitol Hill longer than any member of the House and might easily be one of the most popular people there, but you won't find her name in the Congressional Directory.
She's the senior member of the Longworth House Office Building's cafeteria line, and during her tenure, which began in 1941, has cooked breakfast for some of the country's most powerful political leaders.
The politicians pass the laws. Odessa Ferguson passes the eggs.
Known as the "walk and talk lady" because she urges her customers down the line as she serves them, Ferguson greets her constituents - secretaries, clerks and members of Congress - with "Walk 'n talk, honey, what'll you have today?"
Remarkably, she remembers the breakfast orders of nearly everyone who eats regularly in the cafeteria, easily hundreds of people.
Her ability was demonstrated one recent morning as Rep. Dave Stockman (R-Mich.) and a member of his staff moved down the cafet ria line, greeted her warmly and collected their breakfasts.
"He and his whole office. They don't have to order," Ferguson noted proudly. "He just winks his eye and I know to get his order ready. If he don't want eggs, he's got to start waving his arms way up at the top of the line or it will be too late."
Although Ferguson is a Democrat, politics has no place in her cafeteria line.
"I don't make a big deal out of it," she says. "I work for both Republicans and Democrats in this job so I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings."
Late in the afternoon when the clanking of silverware, swishing of brooms and scraping of chairs are the only sounds in the cafeteria, Ferguson reflects on her popularity on the Hill.
"Everyone is very nice to me, all of 'em call me sweetheart," she says stirring her cola with a straw. "Some of the congressmen, they come around back to give me their orders. But they always wait their turn, they don't push ahead or nothing."
Over the years, Ferguson has learned that some freshman congressmen need time to warm to cafeteria workers.
"Some of the congressmen, they start out grouchy when they first come here," Ferguson says with a twinkle in her eye. "I tell my girls let me handle him. I'll be real sweet and it won't take anytime till he's real nice.
"You can catch more flies with honey than you can with salt." Ferguson says. "You can't catch no flies with salt."
Ferguson has watched the procession of congressmen coming and going since the American entry in World War II. Oddly, considering her extraordinary memory, she doesen't remember many names. However, a few stand out in her mind.
"I used to see Wilbur Mills, Wayne Hays and Adam Clayton...what was his name?" Ferguson muses as she gazes around the steamy cafeteria, "powell. Adam Clayton Powell. I sure remember him6," she adds with emphasis and a smile.
Odessa Ferguson came to Washington in 1940 from Landis, N.C., where she was one of 16 children. She moved to Washington as a 18-year-old newlywed, a bit nervous about the big city. Things have changed a lot in the past 39 years, she says.
"Wages, for one thing. When I started work here in 1941, I made $17.50 every two weeks. The employes here had separate bathrooms and dining rooms. The help didn't even eat together," Ferguson recalls, shaking her head. "We had separate tables in the back for blacks and whites."
Her workday begins at 6:45 a.m. She personally cooks breakfast, then supervises food preparation until she leaves the Hill at 4 p.m. Before going home to her two sons (her husband died last year) she stops to care for a 90-year-old arthritic neighbor, devoting an hour or so to the visit. "I sit with her, and help her get around," Ferguson explains.
In all her years on Capitol Hill, Ferguson has never seen an inauguration. She says she would like to see one, but, unfortunately, she is always working during the ceremonies.
"We always stay open on inauguration day," she says. "Lots of people want to get something to eat."
As she gathers her belongings before catching the 4:30 bus to her Southeast Washington home, Ferguson rummages through her pocketbook to withdraw a worn photograph of herself with a smiling President Gerald Ford.
"I've met all the presidents since I've been here," she comments matter-of-factly. "President Carter and his wife were here two months ago. I think he's a nice man. He came down the line just like everyone else." CAPTION: Picture, Odessa Ferguson, Longworth cafeteria's "Walk "n" Talk Lady." By Craig Herndon - The Washington Post