In my four decades as a newspaperman, one near-constant has been that someone taking sides on a public issue -- and especially someone opposed to a project that intrudes on his or her own neighborhood -- is likely to have a chip on the shoulder. To get at the unadorned facts, the reporter must peel away that chip.

My own favorite exception to that rule died Saturday. Evelyn Beam's obituary was in yesterday's paper. She died, at age 76, of cancer. Evelyn Beam was likely the nicest person I've ever dealt with as the protagonist in a public dispute. There are other things that make her outstanding, and we'll get to that soon.

Go back to 1970. Metro, planning its since-built elevated route between the Stadium- Armory station and the Anacostia River, proposed a station in the RFK Stadium's north lot -- and opposite the 500 block of Oklahoma Avenue NE where Beam was president of a citizens' block club.

All odds were against her, but Beam's solid but gentle strength prevailed, first in getting the station eliminated and then in getting the elevated tracks moved farther from her attractive, stable neighborhood of middle-class homeowners.

That wasn't her only claim to neighborhood fame. She was active in fighting crime and in attempting to win approval for the children's park that was proposed for nearby Kingman Lake, a pool off the mainstream of the Anacostia River.

Evelyn Beam's obituary didn't make the point, but in a Library of Congress then rife with racism this lady from rural Alabama was one of the first black librarians.

She made a real mark in Washington.