-- Lyn Nofziger took leave of Ronald Reagan today after having been the president-elect's press secretary for the better part of 14 years.
The stage direction read: "Exit laughing -- and loyal."
The departure of nofziger, an always-dishevelled, constantly wise-cracking, beer-bellied man who has been most frequently photographed stepping in front of Reagan, waving his hands to cut off further questions, leaves the Reagan transition without a press spokesman who has access to the preseident-elect.
Nofziger told Reagan before Election Day that he did not want to go to Washington as White House press secretary, and agreed to work until today before hanging out his shingle in Los Angeles as a political consultant. He said he has not been asked for advice about how White House press operations should be organized.
"I don't think you can do the job of press secretary unless you have access to the president," Nofziger told reporters in a farewell conversation here.
James Brady has been designated Reagan's East Coast spokesman, working from transition headquarters in Washington. Joe Holmes, a long-time aide to White House counsel-designate Edwin Meese III, has been named West Coast spokesman, based in Los Angeles.
Both will report to Robert Garrick, another Meese associate, who has a public relations background and will work in Washington, Nofziger said.
Was he surprised not to have been asked for advice?
"I'm never surprised by anything in this organization," he replied, slouching deep in an armchair in his hotel suite.
On his final evening working for Reagan, Nofziger was confronted with the kind of event he personally doesn't like and won't meet halfway.
About 500 of Palm Springs' rich and famous jammed a hotel ballroom, paying $2,500 a head to dine, dance and listen to speeches by Reagan, former president Gerald Ford and Bob Hope, and songs by Sammy Davis Jr.
Nofziger was invited, but chose not to attend. He also chose not to brush what hair he has, and chose to wear his habitual uniform, an ill-fitting, blue-checked sports jacket and Oxford blue shirt without a tie, and stayed where the reporters were kept, outside the ballroom. He made even some reporters, let alone the evening clothes-clad crowd, look well dressed.
Nofziger did his job. Photographers got their pictures of the Reagans and others from the head table. Reagan was protected from rfeporters' questions.
Nofziger's next appearance at a black-tie affair will be at Reagan's inaugural, which he will attend only at his wife's insistence.
"I hate these things," Nofziger said.
Although Nofziger grumbled that he only agreed to hold his final meeting with reporters to get them to stop bothering him Thursday while he ate his Thanksgiving dinner, he appeared to enjoy himself a bit and allowed a touch of mellowness to crack his cultivated curmudgeonly facade.
He noted that he has had his share of fights with reporters, but said that the last year, after he rejoined Reagan early in the primary season, has been different.
"It's been a pleasant campaign and I appreciate that," he said.
To suggestions that the press wouldn't have Nofzieger to kick around any more, he replied: "Maybe I'll see you again in four years if I can find another candidate."
He said he would not bet against Reagan running for a second term, so it was unclear whether he was referring to returning to aid Reagan's reelection or to working for another Republican should Reagan step down.
Despite his apparent concern over leaving Reagan with no successor ready to take over his role, Nofziger expressed optimism about Reagan's future relations with reporters.
"I think he feels that he's got a good relationship with the press," Nofziger said. "They [the Reagan team] feel they've got a good rapport and I think they'll work to keep it."
Nofziger was asked a series of questions about Reagan's character.
"I Don't know of anybody who is more secure in his own self than Ronald Reagan is," he said.
He agreed that it is unlikely Reagan will spend extremely long days at his White House desk, but said that only reflected the president-elect's ability to delegate responsibility and his common sense.
"I think he's got his priorities pretty straight and he doesn't believe in hanging around an office just for the sake of hanging around an office," Nofziger said.
Nofziger and the reporters drank beer or coffee as he spent his last hour parrying many questions with blunt wisecracks.
Is there a political litmus test for prospectove Cabinet officers?
"Absolutely," came the reply. "If they don't turn purple, we don't take them."
What would Nofziger call Caspar (Cap) Weinberger, a reporter seeking to distinguish moderates from conservatives asked.
"Cap," Nofziger answered.
He refused to discuss possible Cabinet choices. The secretary of state he joked, would be Alger Hiss.
In reply to another question, Nofzieger said he expects Reagan will continue to talk to former president Richard Nixon from time to time. Pressed to describe the Reagan-Nixon relationship, Nofziger cracked: "Man and wife."
Nofziger said there had been no special farewells between himself and Reagan.
"Not even 'So long, Lyn, the check will be in the mail?'" asked a reporter.
Nofziger just laughed.