Katharine Graham: A Friend to Kids

Bob Levey
Monday, July 23, 2001

During her 38 years at the helm of The Washington Post Co., Katharine Graham hobnobbed routinely with presidents and kings. But she never forgot that this was her home town. Or that some people who live here are short on advantages.

She was one of the most reliable, generous donors to charity I've ever known. She never sought credit or recognition. But she will get some of each this morning, from this corner. Without her, Send a Kid to Camp -- our annual fundraiser on behalf of underprivileged local children -- might very well not exist.

Not only did Katharine Graham donate to this campaign, and not only did The Washington Post do so (at her urging), but she also helped convince a certain columnist that the cause was a good one.

Return with us now to the thrilling days of August 1981. Levey had been columnizing for all of two months. Suddenly, the Washington Star folded.

For more than 30 years, the Star had run a campaign similar to Send a Kid to Camp.

But now that the newspaper was out of business, it looked as if the camping program might be, too.

Before she took over the reins of The Post, Katharine Graham had served on many local boards, including the one at Family and Child Services. FCS ran and still runs Camp Moss Hollow, where we send hundreds of children each year with the dollars you contribute to Send a Kid to Camp.

The late John Theban was the director of FCS in those days. He made an SOS call to Katharine Graham. She, in turn, made one to me.

Understand that Katharine Graham did not order me to spearhead a fundraising drive for campers. She was a publisher who stayed out of the way of her newsroom troops -- usually far, far out of the way. She gave columnists an especially wide berth.

But on this day, she was pleading a case, on behalf of kids who really needed an advocate.

"Would you consider taking this on?" she asked.

Now, I may look like a moron, but even I wasn't dumb enough to slam down the phone on the biggest boss in the place. I said I'd be glad to talk to John Theban about it.

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