It was while walking around a lake in Ditchley, England, with Attorney General Griffin B. Bell in the summer of 1977 that then-federal appeals court Judge William H. Webster first learned he had been mentioned as a possible FBI director.

Another respected federal judge Frank M. Johnson of Alabama, recently had been selected as the nominee when Bell told Webster that day at an international legal conference that he'd almost been tapped, aides said.

On Dec. 23 of that years, after Johnson had to withdraw because of illness, Bell called Webster and asked if he would allow his name to be considered.

In a few weeks, a filed of five had dwindled to two, but Webster was reluctant to see President Carter because he was not sure about taking the job and was afraid he could not turn the president down if he were asked to take it. Instead, he asked Bell if he could talk to Solicitor Gen eral Wade McCree, another jodge who left the bench -- and a nice pension -- to serve at the Justice Department.

When Webster asked McCree if he sould take the job, McCree said: "No, unless you want to make a patriotic gift to your country."

That was what it took.