Would my anonymous journalistic colleague kindly stagger forward and admit his leading role in Virginia's modern social history?

Nearly 15 years ago, on Oct. 17, 1968, an unidentified reporter aboard the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's food-bar car 1610 sitting on a siding at Newport News, walked up to the bar and asked for a bourbon on the rocks, which he promptly quaffed.

It was the first drink of the hard stuff legally served in a public establishment in the Old Dominion in 52 years, thanks--or no thanks--to Methodist Bishop Joseph Cannon, who at one time was virtually the moral dictator of the state. To enforce his dry views in the World War I era, he gained access to a seat on the floor of the General Assembly and even published a daily newspaper in Richmond. But that's ancient history.

By 1968, the legislature moistened its attitude, permitting localities to hold local referenda on legal liquor-by-the-drink. That year, 34 of 45 Virginia localities that held elections voted to repeal the old restrictions. That permitted the C&O Railway to file for and receive the first license for serving aboard its trains.

According to an Associated Press account by Paul Grant, there are more than 13,000 licensed establishments in the state. But a religious group, the Alcohol-Narcotics Council Inc. of Virginia, remains adamantly opposed to the liberalization.

The Virginia Restaurant Association says bar licenses contributed to making tourism the state's No. 2 industry, just behind manufacturing.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, and as a suburban Virginian, I know that restaurants in that area couldn't compete against those in Washington until drinks became available. Now they're plentiful.