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For 'Gallant Lady,' an Elite Farewell

Funeral: An assembly of the nation's powerful gathers to honor newspaper trailblazer Katharine Graham.

July 24, 2001|JOHANNA NEUMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Arriving in limousines and buses, on foot and in cabs, some of the nation's most powerful names joined official Washington in bidding farewell Monday to Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

She was honored for her landmark contributions to American journalism, which included Watergate coverage and publishing the Pentagon Papers, and praised for the personal saga that transformed her from a shy homemaker to a woman who after her husband's suicide was forced to find her own voice. Graham was also lauded by many for her quiet courage.

"A very gallant lady," said Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the historian who served John F. Kennedy and one of those who eulogized Graham before an audience of more than 3,000. "She will leave an enduring mark on the nation's capital and the irreverent press."

At her home in Georgetown, neighbors and friends left flowers and notes. Nearby streets were closed to traffic. At a private ceremony, she was buried next to her husband in a cemetery across from her home, in the shadow of the Dumbarton Oaks estate.

But in the neo-Gothic National Cathedral, where Washington memorializes its own, power players recalled her pivotal role in rescuing the Washington Post first from mediocrity and then from governmental intimidation.

The Washington Post was at best an uneven newspaper when she took it over in 1963. By 1971, when she ordered publication of the government's top-secret history of U.S. involvement in Indochina, the Post and the New York Times stood at the pinnacle of credibility in their 1st Amendment case before the Supreme Court. A Post lawyer had worried about government retaliation against the television licenses held by the newspaper. Graham worried about its reputation.

The secretary of Defense who in 1967 commissioned the Pentagon Papers was Robert S. McNamara. Monday, he served as one of Graham's pallbearers.

Benjamin C. Bradlee, the editor Graham hired to steer the Post's evolution, alluded to the turmoil at the newspaper in the early days of Watergate. The White House was describing the break-in there as a "third-rate burglary" and denigrating the Post, which in 1972 was nearly alone in chasing the unraveling story of political corruption and abuse of power that would eventually topple a president.

"If this is such a great story, where the hell are all the other papers?" Bradlee recalled Graham asking him. And, "Are we all right? If not, don't look below."

Watergate--and the subsequent resignation of President Nixon--not only established the Post as a major league newspaper but also arguably changed the tone of Washington coverage. Once part of the establishment, reporters became adversaries to those in power.

It also inaugurated a new Washington institution--a source named Deep Throat. In their investigative work, the Post's young Metro reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, confirmed some of their more remarkable leads with a source whose identity they have protected ever since. (Woodward has said he will disclose the person's identity after the source's death.)

Looking out at the audience of mourners, Schlesinger drew laughter when he said that the still-mysterious Deep Throat "may well be among us today."

Raised in privilege, Graham also changed the social life of Washington. Donald Graham, her son and for the last 22 years the Post's publisher, recalled that she single-handedly changed the sexual dynamics of Washington dinner parties, telling columnist Joseph Alsop at one such event that if he hewed to the usual practice of separating men and women after dinner, she would leave.

Her contributions to women went beyond getting them a place at the table. A widowed mother of four, she offered the couch in her office to any pregnant Post staffer. She joined the effort to integrate Washington's Gridiron Club. Once, told by her editors that the women on staff had circulated a petition demanding equal treatment, she asked if they wanted her to read it or sign it.

But she also guarded the primacy of the Washington establishment, preserving a culture that honors power more than politics. Henry A. Kissinger, secretary of State to two Republican presidents, recalled that even when her newspaper was writing vehement editorials against the Vietnam War he was helping to prosecute, Graham would invite him to the movies.

"In the midst of the divisive Vietnam debate, Kay said, 'You need some rest, let's go to the movies,' " Kissinger recalls, adding that when the lights came up, moviegoers were always surprised to see the two of them sitting together.

And, as the presence of former Washington Mayors Marion Barry and Walter Washington and current Mayor Anthony Williams attested, she never forgot the city she lived in or those without her resources. "When the high and mighty have finished talking, they won't have said it all," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told the Washington Post. "She tried to make sure that this was a city of equality instead of a small-time Southern town."

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