In the mid-1950s, the Associated Press assigned me to the Treasury beat. This included coverage of the Federal Reserve Board. My qualifications for the job were that I had take Econ I at the University of Missouri and had been a successful AP war and postwar correspondent.
One of my first acts on my new beat was to seek a meeting with William McChesney Martin, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He took me in, and I told him that the first question I had to ask him was, "What is monetary policy?" He said that wasn't something that could just be answered straight out, but in a superb act of generosity typical of him, he said he would do his best to give me half an hour or so most Thursday afternoons. In the subsequent couple of years, he gave me an undergraduate, graduate and post-grad course in economics, finance and monetary policy.
We talked about many things those Thursday afternoons -- baseball, the Redskins, goings-on of note, his feeling that when "everybody" was redecorating his apartment money was obviously too loose, in addition to economics and monetary policy. We often talked about (he talked, I listened) the stock market, where he had been the "boy president" at an earlier time. He drilled into me two lessons about the market: never, never put any money in stocks that you might need, because when you need it the market will be down; and, invest, don't gamble.
One afternoon, I found him chuckling over a wastebasket full of what looked like stock certificates. He said he had been talking with an old friend, who had inherited a fortune, much of it in stocks, in the mid-'20s, but, having no interest in money, had never paid any attention to his holdings. For some reason he had brought them all in for Bill to look at.
Chairman Martin explained:
"He understood that I couldn't give him advice. He just wanted to know if he had anything left. I threw out all the companies that had failed and toted up roughly what I thought the rest of his holdings were worth.
"You know I'm an old investment counselor. Well, let me tell you that my friend has the best-managed portfolio I have ever seen. And he just left it all in a dresser drawer for 30 years, including the Great Depression.
"Like I've been telling you, Frank, invest, don't gamble."
FRANK O'BRIEN Chevy Chase