She had been called the most powerful woman in the world. To us summer interns, she was the boss. And although we hadn’t met her ourselves, Susan Chen, Beth Howe and I were undeniably moved when Katharine Graham died on July 17.
For several reasons, we felt as though we had known the legendary owner of The Washington Post.
On each of the previous four Wednesdays, we had traipsed through her office on our way to lunch in Mrs. Graham’s Dining Room — a small back room crowded by a circular table for 10 in its center. Each of these lunches was with a different executive of the company, including Don Graham, who took over the newspaper from his mother in 1979.
Each of us interns had been given a copy of her disarmingly candid autobiography on our first day of work. Susan’s copy was one of the last she ever signed.
I will never forget the first time I saw Katharine Graham in person. I was standing at a Bloomberg terminal, squinting to decipher the myriad codes and charts when suddenly a gaggle of suits strode in to the foyer. Out of a nearby office shuffled a slightly bent-over woman to greet the man at the center of the visiting delegation. As if greeting an old friend, she clasped the right hand and kissed the cheek of Kofi Anan.
This woman had known so many people and touched so many more.
The day she died, I was at a trade fair. Beth called to tell me the news. As I moved from booth to booth, a couple of people who hadn’t heard yet asked me how she was doing. When I returned to the office, four TV trucks were parked out front and the flag was flying at half-mast. Inside, the mood was somber and some tears were quietly shed.
She was more than the chairman of the executive board.
She was an icon.