>One Life: Katharine Graham

>Unintentionally keeping to yesterday’s village theme, I am looking forward to seeing a new exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery on the life of the late Katharine Graham, which opens tomorrow. Mrs. Graham, owner and publisher of The Washington Post, was a longtime Georgetown resident, just down the street from Dumbarton Oaks. She played a pivotal role in the investigation into what became known as the Watergate Scandal, which ultimately brought down the Nixon Administration, as dramatized in “All The President’s Men”.

However Mrs. Graham was also a writer of profound clarity and reflection, as demonstrated in her Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography, “Personal History”, published in 1997 to wide acclaim. While I certainly did not agree with her politics, Mrs. Graham was of a certain variety of liberal whom we rarely see any more: someone who was not so much interested in being shrill and destructive, as in trying to do what they believe is right from a set of principles. Moreover, the painful events which she wrote on in her book show that, despite her self-assessment as being reserved and shy, she was a lady of incredible courage and grace in trying to rise above the circumstances which might have crippled a weaker spirit.

From a cultural standpoint Mrs. Graham was, naturally enough, one of the grandes dames of Georgetown society for many years. What many may not be aware of is that her quiet graciousness attracted the admiration of individuals who were far more outgoing than she. Case in point: Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball of 1966, known to many pop culture aficionados via photographs as a sort of last gasp of old-school glamour before the cultural downfall of the late 60’s. Despite her self-professed nature as a shrinking violet, the masquerade was thrown in her honor at the Plaza Hotel in New York, and Capote himself was her escort for the evening.

For those not familiar with Mrs. Graham’s book, I highly recommend a reading, even if you do not happen to agree with the publication of The Pentagon Papers, or with Woodward and Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, and so on. You will not be disappointed at the richness of her experience for it is a beautifully written examination of a life, certainly one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. And for those who find themselves in Washington over the coming weeks, dropping in at the National Portrait Gallery to see the manuscript, famous photographs and other memorabilia from the life of this truly remarkable lady would be well-worth the effort.

Katharine Graham and Truman Capote arriving at the Black and White Ball, 1966

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