"I could be dead when you read this."

ONE MORE GREAT lead from Chalmers Roberts -- but one his readers would like to have been spared. In Saturday's Post, Mr. Roberts explained how, at 93, he has decided to forgo heart valve replacement surgery, having been told by his doctors that the likely alternative is death. May his doctors be wrong.

Strange to have to explain to regular Post readers who Chalmers Roberts is. Through the 1950s and 1960s, no byline appeared more often on The Post's front page than his, which often could be read two or three times a day. In those days, editors would examine the state of the world each morning, and whatever they deemed the most important story would be handed to Chal. And whatever the subject, Chal would turn in an authoritative account by day's end. In The Post's long history, no reporter exemplified more clearly the qualities of toughness, fairness, intelligence and nuanced judgment.

Diplomatic affairs were a longtime specialty, though Chal could be notably undiplomatic when the occasion called for it. With his colleague Murrey Marder, Chal helped write news stories that told the world about Sen. Joseph McCarthy. In the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson years, it was he more than any other reporter who exemplified The Post. At the start of his career, the paper was losing money and had few resources. But no paper had a better reporter covering the biggest stories in Washington.

When Chal retired, Katharine Graham asked him to write the history of The Post on its centenary. She expected that an honest book would be worth more than a pusillanimous one, and she was right. Deeper into retirement, Chal still sends in an occasional piece or critique of the newspaper, always pecked out on a manual typewriter, his first draft usually his last, but that draft more cogent than other journalists might manage with a dozen rewritings.

Chal's article of Saturday illustrated a 93-year-old mind that works as well as anyone's, at any age. Those who know him, and the thousands of older Post readers who read his work so often, could only wish for many more decades of Chal. But the same friends and readers can only admire the qualities he brought to his decision, the same toughness and lack of sentimentality that have served us all so uniquely and so well.