During my absence, former House member George H. Mahon (D-Tex.), without argument one of the nicest men who ever served in Congress, died in Texas at the age of 85. I covered him episodically when he was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee but got to know him better when, in retirement, he walked on personal errands from the Prospect House apartments in Arlington to a local 7-Eleven both of us patronized. We'd invariably swap small talk.

There's one George Mahon story I'd like to share. One day, perhaps four years ago, I encountered him at the entrance to the Rosslyn Metro station. He looked puzzled. "Mr. Chairman," I said, embracing his congressional honorific, "may I help you?"

"Why, yes, thank you," he responded. A relative -- his granddaughter, as I recall -- had suggested he try riding the subway into Washington, and this was his first attempt. He needed help in puzzling out the Farecard machine, the entry gate, the escalator and which train to take. Solving those was easy.

The train was crowded, and we both stood.

Mahon was silent for most of the way into Washington. But soon before I debarked, he turned to me and said something like this:

"As Appropriations Committee chairman, I went along with hundreds of millions of dollars for this subway, and I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do, but Bill Natcher the Kentucky congressman long tagged as a subway foe, but ultimately turned around convinced me. I'm glad I did. This is a nice train, and it's going to be good for the city."