Publisher who presided over Watergate dies at 84

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The Independent US

Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post and the woman who steered the paper through some of the most thrilling episodes in journalism, died on Tuesday.

Mrs Graham, 84, failed to regain consciousness after a fall at the weekend in Idaho which left her with a critical head injury. She underwent surgery at St Alphonsus Regional Medical Centre in Boise, Idaho, where she died yesterday morning.

As chairman of The Washington Post Co for two decades, Mrs Graham built the paper into one of the world's most famous and formidable publications. The highly-respected if sometimes dry paper is largely credited with bringing about the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, a resignation partly forced by the now famous reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein into the Watergate break-in.

Mrs Graham took over control of the Post in 1963 after the suicide of her husband, Philip. He had been given the paper by Mrs Graham's father who bought it at a bankruptcy sale for $825,000 (£588,000) in 1933. Her father had said no man should have to work for his wife.

But after Mrs Graham took over the paper she built it up to the point that when she passed on the reins to her son, Donald, in 1991, it was ranked 271 on the Fortune 500 list.

Mrs Graham, born in Mount Kisco, New York, was remembered yesterday as a tough, independent woman who trusted her editors and reporters, such as Ben Bradlee, executive editor at the time of Watergate. It was said that her support over decisions such as the publications of the Pentagon Papers, was essential.

Yesterday Mr Bradlee, appointed by Mrs Graham, said: "She committed the paper to whatever its excellence is. She was the heart and soul of the place."

Through her support for convincing journalism, Mrs Graham became a role model for women in a city and industry dominated by men and their egos. She was the first woman appointed to the board of directors of the Associated Press.

She was also a famed and influential hostess, with some saying that invitations to her home in Washington's Georgetown district or else her retreat in Martha's Vineyard, were as coveted as those to the White House. President Reagan attended her 70th birthday party and made a toast describing her as a "sensitive, thoughtful and very kindly person".

The late Princess of Wales talked with her about her sons while walking on the Massachusetts beaches and earlier this year President George Bush was guest at a dinner party she hosted for him.

Mrs Graham, who had been working on a book about the history of Washington, remembered Watergate as an unparalleled chapter in the paper's history. Even Nixon later commented: "In Washington, there are many who read the Post and like it and many who read the Post and don't like it. But almost everybody reads the Post, which is a tribute to Kay Graham's skills as a publisher."

During the Watergate crisis, Mrs Graham actually received a direct threat from Nixon's campaign manager and former attorney general, John Mitchell – an incident featured in the film All the President's Men – who warned Mr Bernstein that if the Post printed its story "Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in a wringer".

Mrs Graham wrote of the stories: "Watergate no doubt was the most important occurrence in my working life, but my involvement was basically peripheral, rarely direct. For the most part I was behind the scenes.

"One of the final touches to Watergate occurred just after Nixon had left Washington. Bob Woodward came to my office with the most wonderful present – an old-fashioned wooden laundry-wringer. It was signed by the six editors and reporters who had worked throughout those years to keep the story alive. It sits in my office still, over 20 years later."