WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve’s long goodbye to Ben Bernanke is over.
Friday was the last day in office for the man who has been credited with saving the U.S. economy — and, in turn, the world — from the next Great Depression. It’s been a tumultuous eight years for Bernanke, who was appointed during the height of the housing bubble and is leaving before the recovery has truly taken off.
The goodbye started with a dinner Tuesday night with the central bank’s top officials from across the country, who were gathered in Washington for their regular policy-setting meeting. Bernanke’s wife, Anna, and former Fed vice chairman Don Kohn also attended.
The event was held in the Fed dining room, where news conferences are held, and featured a menu of crab cakes, lentil soup, salad and a gluten-free dessert.
One of the highlights was the remarks by incoming chairman Janet Yellen, who jokingly recounted falling asleep while watching “Star Wars” and dreaming of Bernanke as Obi-Wan Kenobi and herself as Luke Skywalker.
A larger baseball-themed farewell with the Fed’s staff in Washington was held Thursday in the atrium. Hundreds of people crowded the marbled staircase and hallways of the building. There was popcorn, Cracker Jack and ice cream — but no beer. And they passed around a custom baseball card with Bernanke’s face on a National player’s body and his career statistics on the back.
Under “Career Appearance Record” was listed: 86 FOMC meetings, 79 congressional testimonies, 226 speeches and 2 “60 Minutes” shows.
Bernanke didn’t get the traditional gifts given to outgoing senior Fed officials: a crystal eagle — a replica of the one that graces the front of the Fed’s headquarters — a chair with his nameplate and framed dollar bills from each of the 12 regional Fed districts. He got those after serving as a Fed governor before becoming chairman. Instead, the staff presented him with a few framed photographs.
On Friday, he ate lunch in the Fed cafeteria, as he normally does. His desk was nearly cleaned out. And he attended a farewell for his executive assistant, Rita Proctor, who also retired Friday, after 43 years at the central bank. She had planned to quit last year but agreed to stay on one more year for Bernanke.
He left the office as chairman for the last time in the middle of the afternoon. And for one of the first times in eight years, he is not expected to come into the office to work this weekend.
The low-key exit was appropriate for a chairman who has made connecting with Main Street and increasing transparency two of his top priorities at the Fed. Bernanke has said that he plans to stay in Washington, at least for now.
A Washington Nationals fan, Bernanke pointed out that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig plans to retire in a year.