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WASHINGTON (AP) – Katharine Graham, who deftly steered The Washington Post through the tumult of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate and built it into a leading force in American journalism, died Tuesday. She was 84.

Mrs. Graham had been unconscious since she suffered a head injury Saturday afternoon in a fall on a concrete walkway outside a condominium in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Her family was at her bedside when she died at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, where she had been taken for surgery on Saturday.

As chairman of the Washington Post Co. for two decades, Mrs. Graham built the paper her father had purchased at bankruptcy auction into a media empire that ranked 271st on the Fortune 500 list by the time she turned it over to her son in 1991. Along the way, she became a force both respected and feared.

“Mrs. Graham became a legend in her own lifetime because she was a true leader and a true lady, steely yet shy, powerful yet humble, known for her integrity and always gracious and generous to others,” President Bush said in a statement.

“Kay Graham was a hero – for the way she met the challenge of taking over the Washington Post Company, for what she did with it, for what she stood for in journalism, and for the inspiration she provided to other women,” said Louis D. Boccardi, president and chief executive of The Associated Press. “All of us who knew her were enriched, and the AP was enriched by her service on our board.”

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, chairman emeritus of the New York Times Co., said: “Throughout the last half of the 20th century, she used her intelligence, her courage and her wit to transform the landscape of American journalism, and everyone who cares about a free and impartial press will greatly miss her. We certainly will.”

The funeral service will be Monday at 11 a.m. at Washington National Cathedral.

Mrs. Graham had been working on a book about the history of Washington. She also kept a hand in the news business, serving as chairman of the executive committee of the Washington Post Co. since 1993.

She took over the Post company in 1963 and built it into a profitable conglomerate of newspaper, magazine, broadcast and cable properties, including Newsweek.

Ben Bradlee, Graham’s longtime executive editor, said he met with the Post newsroom staff Tuesday afternoon and reminisced about “how much she loved her job, what a good time we had when were at the top of our game.”

“I just say, ’Well done, fantastic job.’Ý”

Mrs. Graham often said her life story read like a soap opera. Instead, she chronicled it in a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir that traced her path from self-described “doormat wife” into one of the world’s most powerful women.

Her “first life,” Mrs. Graham said, ended in 1963 when her husband, Philip, who suffered from manic depression, committed suicide at their country home in Virginia.

Philip Graham had been publisher of the Post, then a mediocre newspaper, and his wife had occupied herself with their four children and the life of a Georgetown matron. Suddenly widowed at 46, she stepped into her husband’s shoes to take over the Post, at first with timidity but later with sure-footed authority.

In the beginning, she saw herself as little more than a placeholder to keep the paper within the family.

“What I essentially did was to put one foot in front of the other, shut my eyes, and step off the ledge,” she wrote in “Personal History,” published in 1997. “The surprise was that I landed on my feet.” Mrs. Graham’s self-doubt and deference to the men at the Post gradually gave way to a confident manner.

“Her life is a testament to grace, courage and tenacity,” said Tim J. McGuire, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and editor of the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. “She’s a person who could have chosen a much easier road than she chose. This craft is grateful she did not. … She is a hero to many, many women in our craft.”

The steadfastness with which Mrs. Graham turned the Post into a powerhouse newspaper was most visible during the turbulent 1970s, in the showdown over the Pentagon Papers, a secret study of the Vietnam War, and in the Post’s dogged pursuit of the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon.

At the critical moment in 1971 when she made the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, in defiance of government protests and against legal advice – but after The New York Times had already broken the story – she gulped and said, “Let’s go. Let’s publish.”

More certain of her decision in retrospect, she wrote, “Publishing the Pentagon Papers made future decisions easier, even possible. Most of all it prepared us – and I suspect, unfortunately, Nixon as well – for Watergate.”

Watergate. Far ahead of other news organizations on a momentous political story, the Post felt the brunt of presidential wrath and drew criticism from readers who felt the paper was out to get Nixon. “It was a particularly lonely moment for us at the paper,” Mrs. Graham recalled. “I sometimes privately thought: If this is such a hell of a story, then where is everybody else?”

Journalism aside, Mrs. Graham’s career was equally notable for the business sense with which she built the Washington Post Co.

“If you just measure her as the manager of a business and forget the soap opera stuff, her record is terrific,” son Donald said in 1991 as he prepared to take over.

Former President Carter said that under her leadership, Graham “not only changed the face of journalism in this country, but also became part of a media empire that proved good reporting could be profitable.”

Katharine Meyer was born June 16, 1917, in New York City, the fourth of five children. Her parents, banker Eugene Meyer and author Agnes Meyer, offered their children more wealth than affection. As Mrs. Meyer herself wrote, “I became a conscientious but scarcely a loving mother.”

Kay, as she was known, grew up in a world of governesses, French lessons and exclusive schools, but recalled that “I had more or less to bring myself up emotionally and figure out how to deal with whatever situations confronted me.”

She was president of her class at the exclusive Madeira School in suburban Virginia and spent two years at Vassar College before transferring to the University of Chicago in 1936. After graduation, she worked as a reporter for the San Francisco News before returning to Washington at age 21 to work on the editorial page of the newspaper that her father had bought in 1933 for $825,000. Time magazine ran a brief item on her hiring and quoted her father as saying, “If it doesn’t work, we’ll get rid of her.”

The publisher’s daughter wrote “light” editorials, with titles like “On Being a Horse,” and “Mixed Drinks,” and before long met and married Philip Graham, a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed. Eugene Meyer brought his son-in-law into the family business as associate publisher in 1945 and five months later made him publisher.

While Philip Graham threw himself into turning around a money-losing paper, his wife set aside her own career to focus on their growing family.

“I increasingly saw my role as the tail to his kite – and the more I felt overshadowed, the more it became a reality,” she wrote, recalling her husband’s domineering manner and tendency to look at her in a way that suggested “I was going on too long and boring people.”

Their home life unraveled as Philip Graham’s mental illness worsened. A downward spiral of erratic behavior, heavy drinking and marital infidelity eventually ended in his suicide at Glen Welby farm. Stunned as she was by her husband’s death, Mrs. Graham was determined to keep the paper in the family. Going to work “seemed to be the only sensible step,” she wrote.

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