'Go With What You Have, Even If It's a Low Pair'

Colleagues and family remembered the journalism giant at the National Cathedral on Wednesday.

Journalist Ben Bradlee speaks at the question and answer session of the screening of 'All The President's Men' the Tribeca Cinemas on July 19, 2005 in New York City.

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

Many Ben Bradlee stories are legend, and plenty of those were repeated Wednesday at the former Washington Post editor's memorial service in the National Cathedral. But mourners also related new stories, some that shed light on the later years of his life.

Bob Woodward, who along with Carl Bernstein reported the Watergate scandal for Bradlee's Post, recounted an incident from a few years ago, when he and Bradlee were—improbably and ironically—invited to speak on Watergate at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in California. “How do you like them apples?” Woodward said, quoting Bradlee. 

But Bradlee had forgotten to bring identification to the airport. He tried to get past the TSA agent with a “tattered and expired” AARP card. “Ben always said you have to go with what you have, even if it's a low pair,” Woodward said. 

The AARP card was not going to cut it, and the TSA agent said as much. But then, from behind them in the line, came a voice “like the voice of Moses,” Woodward said. It was Vernon Jordan, the civil rights activist and former adviser to Bill Clinton.

Jordan told the agent that this was Ben Bradlee, famed former editor of The Washington Post. The TSA agent was impressed and let him pass. “He had beat the system again,” Woodward said. 

Bradlee, who died on Oct. 21 in his Washington home, had Alzheimer's disease and had been receiving hospice care. Funeral attendees included Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Other speakers included Bernstein, Tom Brokaw and Post publisher Donald Graham, son of Katharine Graham, who hired Bradlee. The final speaker was Quinn Bradlee, his youngest son. 

“People talk a lot about his colorful language,” he said. “But in my opinion, he also had the most colorful heart.”