The man who had the last word

Baltimore Glimpses

January 17, 1995|By Gil Sandler

AS THE senior member of the Annapolis press corps, it has been the privilege of Thomas Stuckey of the Associated Press to declare an official end to Gov. William Donald Schaefer's press conferences. As he has done for years, Mr. Stuckey shouts out, )) at a moment acceptable to all present, "Thank you, Governor," and that's it.

But from the early 1950s until he retired in 1981, the "Thank you, Governor" job was held by the late and legendary Eddie Fenton. By consensus of his peers, Eddie Fenton held the job longer than anybody -- and also by consensus there will never, ever be another State House reporter like him. (Fention died in 1982.)

Fenton reported over radio station WCBM from the time he was a boy in the 1930s. He grew up on the streets of Waverly and worked as a bat boy for the old International League Orioles and for Roger Pippen, the sports editor of the News-American. He graduated from Mount St. Joseph's and broke into radio helping announcers Lee Davis and Newell Warner do play-by-plays for his beloved Orioles.

Before long, his was the best-known and most-feared voice covering the State House.

"I'm paid to ask tough questions," he grumbled, "not to tip-toe around."

Word was that he volunteered to spring the trap door if someone would build a gallows for a certain local politician. "Politicians," he said, "talk too damn much -- especially liberal ones."

As a reporter, Fenton was right out of Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur's classic newspaper play and movie, "The Front Page." He weighed 250 pounds. He had high blood pressure and phlebitis. He wore a glass eye and had a Falstaffian capacity for hard drinking, hard living, heavy eating and mischievous merriment.

And he never, not in all of his years as a fast-moving reporter, drove a car. He never learned. "I've got a quick temper," he once explained. "I'm impatient and I drink a lot. No one with those qualities should drive a car."

Frank DeFilippo, today a political commentator, was Gov. Marvin Mandel's press secretary. He recalled Fenton at his best, at a gubernatorial press conference. It seems the session was moving to its conclusion and Fenton was about to stand up and declare it over with his familiar "Thank you, Governor."

Instead, at that precise moment a reporter for one of the Washington papers got up and said, "Thank you, Governor."

The assembly was stunned; obviously the reporter hadn't been around the State House long enough to understand that that line belonged exclusively to Eddie Fenton and no other.

The rookie had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when Fenton was on his feet, screaming at the interloper.

"You little [expletive deleted]! If you ever do that again I'll break your neck!

Then Fenton shifted gears, slowly turned to the governor and said quietly: "Thank you, Marvin."

Thank you, Eddie.

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