Two good-guy awards to hand out. Ladies and gentlemen, a ringing round of applause, please, for Jim Gilbertson and Peter Ruffing.
Martha Peacock of Vienna nominated Jim -- without knowing that Jim was Jim. All she knew was that he passed her in Fairfax City Police Patrol Car 8 one morning in November just as Martha's 3-year-old son Stephen was loudly refusing to put on his seat belt.
"I noted in the rear-view mirror that a police car was behind us. I pointed to the officer and said, 'Stephen, if you don't put on your seat belt, that policeman will arrest us. Hurry!'
"His eyes looked like little green saucers. He immediately put on the seat belt and then peeked to see if the officer was going to arrest him. Instead, the officer waved."
When Martha stopped for a red light a few blocks farther on, the policeman got out of Patrol Car 8 and knocked on the window. When Martha rolled it down, the officer said:
"Boys who wear their seat belts deserve this." And he handed Stephen a junior Fairfax City Police badge.
Martha reports that Stephen was in awe -- and may still be. "I doubt I will have any trouble getting Stephen into his seat belt in the future," she deadpans.
Jim says he's glad to know how much the badge meant to Stephen. He says he decided to do what he did because he has a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old himself, and is "tuned in" to Kid Problems.
Jim used to work in the community relations division, which gives out junior badges all the time. When he transferred to regular patrol duty, Jim decided to carry a few badges in Car 8 just in case. Nice piece of preparation, wouldn't you say?
Meanwhile, just down the road in Arlington, the Bryan family was keeping alive a New Year's Eve tradition. Every year, the youngest Bryan, Brandy, gets to choose where the family will eat dinner.
This past Dec. 31, Brandy chose Jay Schroeder's, because it serves pizza (his favorite) as well as liver and onions (his mother's favorite). But soon after the family was seated, waitress Collette Berrebi broke the bad news. Jay's wasn't serving pizza that night because the pizza ovens were needed to cook New Year's Eve souffles.
Seven-year-old Brandy ordered a Coke. It looked as if it might be Coke-and-tears at any moment. His father Alfred offered to take the family to another restaurant. But Collette had already gone to find Peter Ruffing, the manager. He solved the problem in style.
Peter took Alfred aside and said he hated to see an unhappy kid. Peter said he would like to surprise Brandy by calling Domino's Pizza and ordering whatever kind of pizza Brandy liked. And Jay Schroeder's would pick up the tab.
The next 15 minutes were sullen, as Brandy sipped at his Coke. But then the surprise pizza arrived -- and Brandy's eyes suddenly resembled 100-watt bulbs. As Alfred says, it "definitely started the Bryan bunch off with a Happy New Year."
"Seeing the little kid's face almost made me cry," Peter told researcher Cathy McCulloch. Because a Domino's was right across the street, "I thought, 'Why not make the little guy happy? It's New Year's Eve.' "
Perhaps Peter had extra sensitivity to the situation, because he used to work at a day care center run by the Annandale Christian Community for Action. Still, how many restaurant managers would go to such lengths to make a kid happy? My guess is: very few.
During World War II, William E. Gaither of Silver Spring was a Navy combat photographer in the Southwest Pacific. He took one of the last photographs of Ernie Pyle, the famous American war correspondent who was killed by a Japanese sniper in 1945. The photo shows Pyle chatting with two Navy officers at Iwo Jima. Three days later, Pyle was dead.
When William left the Navy shortly after the war, he kept the original Pyle photo. But the Navy retained all rights to it.
William resumed his career at the Government Printing Office when he returned to Washington. He retired in 1972 after 38 1/2 years of service.
The other day, William's wife was rummaging through the small library in the lobby of their apartment building. She came across a volume called, "An Album of Ernie Pyle." Knowing of her husband's fascination with Pyle, she checked the book out and brought it upstairs.
When William started leafing through the book, "one of the photographs practically leaped out at me." You guessed it. Until that day, "I did not know such a book existed," William says.
"That I should discover my photo of Ernie Pyle in the building where I live, 42 years later, must surely prove that the world is indeed a small place," William writes. No argument from this corner.