Uncle Al had a 50th anniversary party on Monday night. President Reagan sent him a congratulatory letter that called him by that nickname. To be candid, I never cozied to that nickname, being somewhat close both in age and experience. But, in excellent company, I surrender here and say, hey, Uncle Al, congratulations!
Al is Alfred E. Lewis, and if you don't recognize the name, you haven't been reading this newspaper for the last half-century while he's been The Post's chief police reporter. On Monday evening, Katharine Graham, the chairman of The Washington Post Co., and her son, ex-police officer Donald E. Graham, the publisher of The Post, gave a party for a few hundred of Al's closest friends, including former local police reporters Sam Donaldson and Roger Mudd, Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. and former mayor Walter E. Washington.
The next day, I went into our library and got the long index cards on which our bylines used to be recorded. Al's card had precisely 100 cards filled with single-spaced listings between 1940 and 1980, when the files were computerized. That works out to something like 10,000 signed stories. The stories ranged from spectacular banners to minor briefs. One sequence spurred the departure of a corrupt police chief.
Reared in the New York City area, Al came to The Post in 1935. It's hard for me to write objectively about Al, a guy who has lived in the sometimes tense nether world between the police and the newspaper, and who has earned the respect of both. One thing about him -- he's not retiring, in one sense not at all and in the other sense not yet. Obviously he enjoyed being at center scene in the picture above, taken at a White House ceremony in 1963.
At the Grahams' party, Al Lewis generously and accurately gave credit, perhaps excessive numerically, to "thousands of rewrite men" who converted his notes into finished stories: among them Charles Davis, Ben Bradlee, Jean Reiff Hailey, the late Albon B. Hailey, the late Phil Casey, in addition to Martin Weil, Harry Gabbett and, yes, yours truly.
In a mock edition of this paper, Don Graham wrote the lead editorial noting that Al came when "The Post was running dead last in a five-newspaper town. Nobody knew how long it could stay afloat." It did, obviously, Graham concluded, and "when they recite the names of the great people who built this place, Uncle Al's belongs right up there."