Godfrey Sperling Jr. — a longtime Washington journalist with the Christian Science Monitor, a University of Illinois alumnus and a one-time reporter with The News-Gazette — died Wednesday in Washington. He was 97, just two weeks shy of his 98th birthday.
Mr. Sperling was best known as the founder and host of the Monitor's "Breakfast with Godfrey," which gave reporters an informal, on-the-record forum to question Washington's power brokers.
In his Sept. 18, 2005, column, News-Gazette Publisher John Foreman wrote about Mr. Sperling as he retired from the Christian Science Monitor:
A Washington, D.C., legend with Champaign-Urbana roots culminated an extraordinary career earlier this month.
Godfrey Sperling Jr., who reported on 11 presidents for readers of the Christian Science Monitor, has written his last column for that paper. He will be honored by his fellow Washington journalists later this month on his 90th birthday.
"Budge" Sperling began his journalism career at The News-Gazette while he was a student at the University of Illinois. He went on to become among the most respected members of the Washington press corps over a career that spanned nearly 60 years.
Among the tributes in the Sept. 6 Monitor was this one from the Washington Post's David Broder:
"When we gathered for the first time in 1966 at the invitation of Budge, we came out of respect and affection for the host. As the Sperling Breakfast has grown in importance over the decades, rivaling the White House press conference and the National Press Club lunch as the source of major Washington stories, so has our respect and affection for a man whose personal qualities — honesty, absolute integrity and collegiality — are matched by his professional acumen. His legacy is his own character and example."
The Christian Science Monitor is less read and less recognized than The Washington Post or New York Times. But it is second to neither in its reputation for quality journalism.
Over the years, much of that reputation was earned by a likeable fellow from Champaign-Urbana who kept a slip of paper taped to his manual typewriter.
It reminded him simply: "Try to be fair."
As journalistic standards go, that's as good — and as challenging — as any.
"Dear readers," he wrote in his Sept. 6 farewell, "I have tried."
The column also made reference to just a few of those to whom he had applied that standard — Truman, Eisenhower, Goldwater, Ford, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, McGovern, Clinton and two Bushes.
Budge Sperling had a ringside seat on a half-century of history, and he used it to the unending benefit of readers who relied on him, above all, to be fair and insightful in how he explained it to them.
It's a high bar. Too many Washington journalists fail to clear it.
And from the Christian Science Monitor website, a tribute to "Budge":
By David Cook, Staff writer / September 11, 2013
WASHINGTON — World War II was barely over when Godfrey Sperling Jr. reported for work at The Christian Science Monitor, still wearing his uniform as an Army Air Corps major.
Although he was a lawyer and held a degree in journalism, Mr. Sperling’s first assignment was to go door to door in the Boston area for the circulation sales department. No matter. He loved the Monitor and the church that publishes it and wanted to help any way he could.
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