I SHIFTED THE clock-radio alarm into the off position last night with the intention of sleeping in this morning. I was entitled to an extra hour or so, I figured, because I had just returned from a grueling week in Milwaukee managing the news of the 46th annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation.
This is my last full week as director of information and public affairs for NWF.
Next week I retire, and I am looking forward to leaving that wake-up switch off permanently.
But this morning, dammit, I am staring at the ceiling at 6 a.m. Through an under-the-pillow earphone -- my answer to insomnia -- the lead story on the 6 o'clock news that General Motors expects to save $2.5 billion if its workers agree to forego wage increases in exchange for job security.
I am more interested in these negotiations than usual because a suspension of those annual, automatic pay hikes, without regard to productivity, could be the beginning of the end of the wage-price spiral -- and nobody is more interested in seeing an end to inflation than a guy who is about to retire.
Today, I drive to work (on 16th Street, above Scott Circle) by way of our Conservation Education Center in a rustic setting on
the Leesburg Pike in Fairfax County. Outside, two red-shouldered hawks are noisily mating in a tree. Inside, I read galley proofs and approve page layouts for our annual report, recounting NWF's achievements in education, legislation and litigation during 1981.
During the 10 years that I worked for Minneapolis and Chicago newspapers and 22 years at Newsweek (15 of them as White House correspondent) it never crossed my mind that at 65 I would be writing slick paper reports as an adjunct to the fund-raising efforts of a conservation organization. But when you cross the Rubicon from journalism into public relations for a "cause," as I did in 1974, you don't negotiate what you will and won't write. In the past seven years -- barring only ghosted speeches -- I have written everything from a two-paragraph news release on a bird walk to a lengthy pamphlet on the touchy question, "Should We Hunt?"
I am, in fact, proud of my last annual report for NWF and hope it helps raise a pile of contributions to help the federation carry on its educational efforts and continue its fight to oust Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt. Reagan and Watt are apparently obsessed with the mad notion that we can have either a prosperous economy or a clean environment -- but not both. It's frightening.
After lunch at the Cosmos Club (the first of several farewells with friends who seem to think I am never going to venture downtown again) I go to the office to start removing personal papers from my files.
I planned to go in early today to start turning files over to my successor, Ron Way, a former Minneapolis newspaper man who served as an Interior Department official for four years under Carter. But the plan goes awry when my wife Mary finds our black cat, Saturday's Child, aka Saturday, desperately ill on the floor of our guest bedroom. We rush him to the vet and are stunned to learn that he has a pulse of 300. It is congestive heart failure and the prognosis is "not good."
At work, we start discussing NWF's position on current environmental issues. Three legislative landmarks of the "environmental era" -- the clean air, clean water and endangered species acts -- are all up for congressional renewal. Encouraged by the Reagan administration, lobbyists for polluting industries are out to get them.
But my mind keeps wandering back to Saturday: why, after 17 years, is he giving out just when I am about to start staying home? He is in many ways a rotten cat -- he bites and scratches guests who try to pet him -- but I now realize that I counted seeing more of him as one of my retirement benefits. Damn.
Despite this country's love of wildlife, I opine to Ron, the Endangered Species Act may be the hardest to defend when the mining, lumber and power combines roll out their heavy artillery. It is much easier to ridicule the snail darter and the Furbish lousewort than to make the argument that all plants and animals, including man, are interconnected and dependent on each other."
Saturday died quietly during the night, at the equivalent age of 105, the vet informs us, and I go back to the turnover task with eyes brimming. For diversion, I decide to write one of the three news releases we have scheduled this week -- announcing that NWF has paid a $500 reward to an Arkansas preacher for supplying information that resulted in the conviction of another Arkansan for shooting a bald eagle.
It will be my last story for the NWF News Service -- I'm doing everything for the last time now -- and I'll bet it gets a good pickup because this is a good year for eagles in the press. It is a good year for eagles because of NWF's campaign to get Congress and the president to proclaim 1982 as the Year of the Eagle, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the selection of that big, ornery bird as our national symbol. Our 1982 "We Care About Eagles" TV public service announcements are getting a tremendous play.
Bob Pierpoint of CBS stakes me to a retirement lunch today at the Maison Blanche, along with two other former colleagues in the White House press room, Ray Scherer and Sid Davis. The place is crawling with White House aides and Reagan campaign contributors. If I close my eyes just a little, it could be the Sans Spuci 20 years ago, when we took JFK staffers to expense account lunches two or three times a week. Walking back to the office, I pass the Sans Souci and there is a hand-lettered sign in the window: Closed.
"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," was Butch's advice to the mob planning to take over the kingdom in King Henry VI. That's too radical a solution, but the more papers I turn over to my successor, the more I realize that the suggestion had some merit.
There are copies of memos from our lawyers -- often to the front office --complaining bitterly when any conservationist other than an NWF spokesman is quoted in a reaction story -- regardless of who is most knowledgeable on the issue. They would also like our news service to be a mere adjunct to their lobbying apparatus -- a move that would instantly destroy its carefully-nurtured credibility. And they want the information office to be "more creative," to spin "media events" out of hot air.
Today, it is a farewell lunch with members of the NWF executive staffat the Iron Gate. There is almost no shop talk.
Before the black coffee and baklava arrive, I wish I had worked out a pat answer to the question, "What are you going to do?" No one seems satisfied with my non-plan, which calls for more sleep and more tennis, some writing and a little travel, but sets no goals and scorns a daily regimen. Many friends think I will get bored -- "feel useless" is the way some put it -- but after 45 years at hard labor (including my four years in the Navy), I'm willing to run that risk.
When I came to Washington in 1954, the "influence peddling" scandals of the Truman administration were still fresh in memory. An office wall covered with photographs of presidents and other politicians was the tasteless trademark of the influence peddler. Now, 28 years later, I am removing from my wall a dozen pictures of me with presidents and other politicians.
The earliest is with Adlai Stevenson, whose first campaign for president I covered. The next is with Ike alongside the 18th green at the Newport (R.I.) Country Club, circa 1957. There are no inscriptions on the pictures of JFK with me and my daughters because he was going to be around for another five years and there would be plenty of time to get his autograph.
There are other shots with Jack's brother, Bobby, with Carter, Agnew, Goldwater and Humphrey -- a college classe thmate whose long and futile quest for the top job frustrated me almost as much as it did him.
Even if I were an influence peddler, this dusty collection of marginalia-under-glass wouldn't be worth much now. But it fills a need. Figuring out what to do with it will give me something to do on my first day of retirement.