More than 400 friends and relatives of columnist Joseph Kraft, who died Friday at 61, attended a memorial service yesterday at the Navy Chapel on Nebraska Avenue NW to remember a man who, in the words of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "enlarged his age."
The chapel was packed with prominent figures from journalism, politics and the law, and dozens were forced to stand in the back as old friends recalled a journalist noted for his intellect, his wit and his sense of compassion.
"He was something almost unknown in journalism, a genuine intellectual," said New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, a Kraft friend of 35 years who addressed the gathering.
"As a rule, journalists have a short attention span," Lewis said. "Joe was a singular exception to the rule. He brought to all his work a long vision of past and future."
The mourners represented every political point of view, and several presidential administrations. They provided evidence, perhaps, of one of Kraft's traits cited by several of those who spoke at the service: his objectivity as a thinker and a journalist.
"His contacts were staggering," said Katharine Graham, chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co. "He was a switchboard wired into the whole world."
"Above all, Joe always eschewed the journalism of polemics," she added.
"He never used his column to bludgeon people intellectually into one point of view.
"Joe will leave a large hole, not only at the top left-hand corner of the page," Graham said, "but in our lives, our minds and our hearts."
Lloyd N. Cutler, White House counsel under President Carter, also praised Kraft's detachment.
"Several presidents and their aides did their best to co-opt him," but they were unsuccessful, Cutler said. "He praised and criticized them all."
President Nixon's "plumber's unit" bugged the telephones at Kraft's Georgetown house to try to discover the source of news leaks, but Kraft wrote without animus about Nixon, Cutler said.
"Joe remained able to judge Richard Nixon more objectively than many of his colleagues," Cutler said.
Kraft's two stepsons, Mark and David Stevens, provided personal reminiscences of the man whom thousands of readers knew only from his writing.
"He loved nothing more than the play of words at dinner, especially as minds were made light and gay by a little wine," said Mark Stevens, an art critic for Newsweek magazine. "Joe could take an interest in almost anything . . . . This was a mind with legs."
David Stevens recalled his stepfather's sense of humor and his identification with the common man.
While Kraft regretted never having won the Pulitzer Prize, Stevens said, "equally important to him was the cancellation of 'McHale's Navy' reruns."
Several speakers also spoke of Kraft's closeness to his wife of 26 years, Polly, who is an artist.
"Joe and Polly were a unit, a wonderful team who enriched those who knew them," said Felix Rohatyn, the Wall Street financier who oversaw New York City's financial recovery in the 1970s.
"Joe was able to speak with men and women of ideas and influence all over the world . . . . He could also talk to one of my sons about his problems with as much interest and concern as with a head of state."
"As he was fair, he came to be feared," said Moynihan, a New York Democrat. "His purpose was this: to help his nation through a period of what turned out to be great danger by teaching us our strengths, showing us that we knew these strengths all along."
Kraft's sense of innocent optimism was also noted by his brother Gilman, who told the audience: "There was nothing naive about Joe, but he was constantly amazed and shocked by cruelties. He knew intellectually and literally about the dark side of human nature, but he could never understand it."
The Kraft family said yesterday that it will establish a fellowship in his name to assist graduate students specializing in foreign affairs.