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Katharine Graham’s legacy

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Katharine Graham's life story is compelling — so compelling that she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for her pull-no-punches autobiography "Personal History."

Mrs. Graham, an icon of journalism who elevated the Washington Post from mediocrity to an American newspaper institution, died Tuesday at age 84 as the result of a head injury. She never regained consciousness after falling Saturday in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she was attending a business conference.

She took charge of the Post in 1963 under traumatic circumstances, replacing her husband Philip, who committed suicide, as publisher.

"I didn't understand the immensity of what lay before me, how frightened I would be by much of it, how tough it was going to be, and how many anxious hours and days I would spend for a long, long time," she wrote in her memoir. "Nor did I realize how much I was eventually going to enjoy it all."

By the time she turned the paper her father had purchased at bankruptcy auction over to her son in 1991, it ranked 271st on the Fortune 500 list.

Her commitment to journalistic excellence and to her colleagues at the Post quickly became apparent. It was Graham, who along with her longtime executive editor, Ben Bradlee, backed young journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they reported on the story that brought down the Nixon presidency — Watergate.

And it was Graham who put the Washington Post as a business enterprise on the line by publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971. She went against legal advice in confronting the federal government to print the secret study of the Vietnam War.

While she was a role model for women, she was much more than that. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, chairman emeritus of the New York Times Co. spoke for the journalistic community when he said that Mrs. Graham "used her intelligence, her courage and her wit to transform the landscape of American journalism."

She did indeed.