A half-century ago, Wall Street financier Eugene Meyer, who gambled $825,000 in buying a bankrupt Washington Post, decreed that the newspaper should not only tell the truth and serve the public but should "observe the decencies that are obligatory upon a private gentleman."
Last night, before 500 of their peers, three 30-year veterans of The Washington Post -- an editorial writer, a composing room foreman and an advertising salesman -- were honored for their adherence to those decencies as well as to the standards of commitment, consistency and concern.
Editorial writer John W. Anderson, composing room general foreman Earnest T. Smith and fashion sales representative Alan Olshine were presented the fourth annual Eugene Meyer Awards by Meyer's daughter, Washington Post Co. board Chairman Katharine Graham, and her son, Post Publisher Donald Graham.
"These gentlemen exemplify the journalistic and business values that Eugene Meyer stood for: total commitment to quality, a belief in service . . . and perspective," said Katharine Graham, who selected the winners of the $5,000 honoraria. "Like Victorian furniture, these values are back in style."
She described Anderson, who has spent more than 20 years on the editorial page staff, as "the soul of integrity" who once returned $32.50 in expenses for a trip to the Orient after he refigured the exchange rate, and as "an Einstein of trade and finance."
When Anderson rose to accept, he said ruefully that he had just spent some length of time on the telephone with a man who violently disagreed with his economics editorial of the day and considered it "a shame" that The Post had never hired anyone "who really understood economics."
"Well, I agreed it was a shame," Anderson smiled, "and went back to compounding the previous day's felony. So I'm glad to have a second opinion."
Olshine, who said before the ceremony that he couldn't even guess at the number of fashion ads he has sold in 35 years, was exposed by Donald Graham not only as a former model for drawings of raincoat ads but as a one-time Borscht Belt entertainer and, briefly, a Broadway understudy.
Olshine struck back gently by praising the Graham family's "tenacity and sagacity" and adding, "that's from my Broadway years."
"It's the essence of the newspaper business to be in a hurry," said Donald Graham as he introduced Smith to the audience.
"In Earnie Smith's composing room they call The Washington Post 'The Daily Miracle' . . . and well they should. Scrambling, patching, by sheer brute force, we get another day's paper out."
Smith, who joined The Post as a substitute printer in 1956 and has been foreman for 20 years, looked back over four generations of Post leadership to the one time he met Eugene Meyer.
"As usual, the printers were negotiating a new contract," Smith said. The union had asked for a $3-a-week raise, Smith said, and Meyer countered with an offer of $2. Smith said he asked an older printer if he thought they'd get the raise.
" 'Hell, yes. The old man's good for the money,' the printer said. 'You stick with him, and he'll stick with you.' "
The printers got the $3 raise, Smith said.