Though she can look as bubbly as any other grandmother, Kay Graham is introduced these days as “the world’s most powerful woman”—an encomium she says “makes me think of a female weightlifter.” But who can dispute her muscle? Katharine Meyer Graham heads a communications empire that grosses $247 million a year and includes the Washington Post, Newsweek, plus the Trenton Times, two radio and four TV stations. Her courage in riding out the rocky early days of the Washington Post’s spadework reporting on Watergate contributed decisively to the fall of Richard Nixon and has won her virtually every award journalism offers. Almost unwillingly, 57-year-old Kay Graham is becoming the chief example of effective leadership to the American press—and its most heeded defender.
Kay’s present acclaim hardly seemed possible a dozen years ago. The retiring daughter of investment banker Eugene Meyer, who bought the Post in 1933, she married the dashing Philip Graham, who became the Post’s publisher. In 1963 Graham suffered a mental collapse and shot himself. The painfully shy Kay, who had not worked on a newspaper for 18 years, suddenly found herself running one.
Today the Washington Post’s prestige has brought increased profits for the third straight year, and a slimmer, better-dressed (by Halston) Kay Graham is now obviously enjoying life and power. She entertains elegantly in her Georgetown house (which has a Post extension telephone, along with the Brancusi, Matisse and Renoir art). Only “little lady behind the desk” interviews make her fidget. “They don’t ask [New York Times publisher] Punch Sulzberger sexist questions,” she snaps.
To get away, she has a 350-acre Virginia farm and a place on Martha’s Vineyard. She also keeps in touch with her four children. And although her son Donald, 29, now the Post’s sports editor, is widely tipped as her heir certain, Kay shows no signs of slowing down. With every reason for smugness about Watergate, Kay, whom her executive editor, Ben Bradlee, once described as having “the guts of a burglar,” is now worried about abuses of investigative reporting. “This is where I see the less healthy influence of Watergate,” she reflects. “To see conspiracy and cover-up in everything is as myopic as to believe that no conspiracies and cover-ups exist.”