The Presidential Medal of Freedom was presented to Ben Bradlee by President Obama at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, November 20, 2013. (Larry Downing/Reuters) The Presidential Medal of Freedom was presented to Ben Bradlee by President Obama at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, November 20, 2013. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

On March 29, 2007, as the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled a former justice department official over the firings of United States attorneys, Walter Pincus poked his head into my office. The Post reporter extended an invitation that was as close to a drop-everything as I’d heard: lunch with him and Ben Bradlee that very day at 12:30.

Because I’d only been on the editorial board a month, I was in the throes of new-job jitters. And with that big Senate hearing as my assignment, the idea of popping out for lunch, even with THE Ben Bradlee, was too much to handle. With great disappointment, I declined. Pincus told me to call if I changed my mind. Right around the appointed hour, the committee broke for a lunch recess and I hurriedly called Pincus to see if the offer still stood. It did.

There, at the Madison Hotel, I dined with Bradlee and Pincus. Bradlee was curious, gruff and good-natured as he asked about my career. He also was a sartorial delight. In my nearly eight years in Washington, I have come to see Bradlee as a wonderful contradiction, the quintessential Washington power player who broke all of its unwritten rules. He said exactly what he thought and did so with the bluest language possible. He supported his people even in the face of incredible pressure from the highest reaches of power. And in a city that couldn’t care less about fashion and looks down its nose at those who do, Bradlee dressed in patterns and stripes that made this Manhattan exile nod in admiration every time I saw him.

Bradlee and I would see each other from time to time in the Post building after that lunch. I always made a point of saying hello. I even had the occasion to go to a couple of his and Sally Quinn’s famed Georgetown dinners. He was always welcoming. But as the years went on, the familiarity his eyes once greeted me with began fading. He was, at once, there and not there. Bradlee, 93, died on Oct.21. His public funeral at the National Cathedral is today.

I didn’t know Bradlee at all. Not the way Pincus or Eugene Robinson or so many others who actually worked with him did. I’m just one of the countless folks in journalism who was inspired by Bradlee and what he represented. That I got to shake his hand and share a meal with him is more than I could have possibly imagined.

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