The Sperling Breakfast was a Washington institution.
Mainly because Godfrey ”Budge” Sperling was.
He died this morning, two weeks short of his 98th birthday.
The host of the Christian Science Monitor’s breakfasts for Washington’s power brokers and news reporters from 1966 through 2001 held his 3,241st a month and a half after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. He was surrounded by family today as he passed away on a sober national anniversary, according to David Cook, the Monitor bureau chief who presides over the Monitor’s ongoing breakfasts.
Sperling, Cook notes, was the oldest living member of the Gridiron Club, that invitation-only enclave of Washington journalists.
The guest he brought to the white-tie dinner in 1981: Ginger Rogers, dressed in “black chiffon and ostrich feathers — just like I had expected.”
`Budge loved the Gridiron Club and relished the camaraderie he shared with so many members over the years,” Cook said in an e-mail to club members today.
Sperling’s breakfast, which had been restricted to print reporters, was a newsmaker. Restricted to print reporters: That line alone bespeaks of the vastly changed profession in which he made a 59-year career. The Monitor is no longer printed daily; it’s a weekly and published frequently online.
A newsmaking breakfast: One in 1968 where Robert F. Kennedy first hinted that he might run for president. He had arrived, Sperling recalled, “resolute” that he would not seek the presidency. But when 11 reporters were finished questioning him, Sperling reported, “we were confident we had a presidential candidate.”
Sperling covered 24 political conventions.
He started at the Monitor shortly after World War II. He served as an Army Air Corps major. He was a lawyer with a degree in journalism.
Known by his childhood nickname of “Budge,” Sperling served as chief of the Monitor’s Chicago, New York, and Washington news bureaus, He wrote his last column in 2004.
“Gregarious by nature, Budge traveled widely, chatting up local and state officials, digging for fresh political insights and building relationships,” the Monitor’s Cook reports today. “Since he was viewed as a relentlessly nonpartisan reporter, during Watergate Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater sometimes would speak bluntly to Budge about President Nixon, sending the White House a message.”
While reveling in his breakfasts and their influence, Cook reports, Sperling once commented: “If anyone had said to me, the thing you will be remembered for is your breakfast group, I would have gone into another career, “ he wrote in a column in 2002. “A breakfast group?’”