Katharine Graham, 84, who led The Washington Post Co. to prominence in the worlds of journalism and business and became one of the most influential and admired women of her generation, died yesterday morning at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho.

Mrs. Graham, former chairman and chief executive officer of The Post Co. and former publisher of The Washington Post, died at 11:56 a.m. of head injuries suffered when she fell on a sidewalk Saturday in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she was attending an annual conference of media business leaders. Her son, Donald, The Post Co.'s current chairman and CEO, also was attending the conference. He and many other members of the family were at the hospital in Boise when she died.

"The nation's capital and our entire nation today mourn the loss of the beloved first lady of Washington and American journalism, Katharine Graham," President Bush said in a statement yesterday. "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."

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who ordered that flags be flown at half staff at all District government facilities, said that "Mrs. Graham has been a part of this city not only as a preeminent publisher, but as a businesswoman and an active civic leader."

Mrs. Graham guided The Washington Post through two of the most celebrated episodes in American journalism, the publication in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers, a secret government history of the war in Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal, which led to Richard M. Nixon's resignation from the presidency in 1974 under the threat of impeachment. She and Benjamin C. Bradlee, the editor she chose to run The Post's newsroom during her years at the helm, transformed The Post and its reputation.

"She set the newspaper on a course that took it to the very top ranks of American journalism in principle and excellence and fairness," said Bradlee, now a Post vice president. "That's a fantastic legacy."

The Post Co. also grew enormously as a business during her three decades of leadership. Revenue grew nearly twentyfold, the company acquired numerous new businesses, and it became a public corporation listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Mrs. Graham took over the company in 1963 after the suicide of her husband, Philip L. Graham, who had run the company since 1946. The family enterprise, then relatively small, included the newspaper, which her father had purchased at a bankruptcy sale in 1933; Newsweek magazine, which her husband had bought in 1961; and two television stations.

By the time Mrs. Graham stepped down as chief executive in 1991 and as chairman in 1993, The Post Co. had become a diversified media corporation with newspaper, magazine, television, cable and educational services businesses. After Donald E. Graham succeeded her as CEO and chairman, Mrs. Graham remained active in the company as chairman of the executive committee of the board of directors.

She was the first woman to head a Fortune 500 company and the first to serve as a director of the Associated Press, the news service owned by member newspapers, and of the American Newspaper Publishers Association. She also served as chairman of the newspaper publishers group.

'Personal History'

In 1997, she published her memoir, "Personal History," which received critical acclaim, became a bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize for biography. The book, written in longhand on legal pads, fully reveals a life marked by personal struggle and tragedy as well as public triumph.

Characteristically modest about her accomplishment, Mrs. Graham, then 80, was amazed that she had won a Pulitzer Prize. At a newsroom celebration of the awarding of the prize, the late Meg Greenfield, then The Post's editorial page editor and a close friend of Mrs. Graham's, turned to her and said: "Now do you believe you wrote a good book?"

Her candid account of her journey from shy homemaker to a pioneering female leader in male-dominated journalism and business resonated with countless women among her book's hundreds of thousands of readers. Many men also said it helped them better understand what it meant for women to move out of traditional roles and into positions of power.

A leading figure in international political, business and social circles, Mrs. Graham was a personal friend of many of the most prominent leaders of her time, including American Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan; Presidents Valery Giscard d'Estaing of France, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia; Chancellor Willy Brandt of West Germany; and Prime Minister Edward Heath of Britain. In the 1990s, her younger friends included Bill Gates, the co-founder and head of Microsoft Corp., and Diana, Princess of Wales.

In the late 1970s, she served as one of the 16 members of the Brandt Commission -- along with Brandt, Heath, Pierre Mendez-France of France, Olaf Palme of Sweden and Eduardo Frei of Chile -- that recommended increased economic cooperation between industrialized nations of the Northern Hemisphere and developing nations of the Southern Hemisphere. She also was active in groups seeking to improve public education in Washington.

Mrs. Graham traveled widely, often joining Post and Newsweek editors and reporters in meetings with foreign leaders. And she frequently hosted local, national and international political, business and civic leaders at the newspaper and in her Georgetown home. She gave two dinners for Reagan and hosted introductory dinners for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush after their elections as president.

Purposefully, she made friends on both sides of Washington's political divide. Former president Jimmy Carter emphasized yesterday that "she was dedicated to the principles of fairness and accuracy." Former secretary of state George P. Shultz, a particularly close friend, said in an interview that "her friendship was not something that passed with the changing of one's Washington role." Former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement that "Washington, D.C., will not be the same without her."

Mrs. Graham was often described as the most powerful woman in the world, a notion she dismissed out of hand. Even when speaking about her role at The Post, she insisted that no single person could shape the persona of a newspaper. "You inherit something and you do what you can," she said. "And so the person who succeeds you inherits something different, and you add to it or you subtract from it or you do whatever you do. But you never totally control it."

As the head of the company, Mrs. Graham wrote in her autobiography, she was guided by the principle that "journalistic excellence and profitability go hand in hand. I had to try to assure Wall Street that I wasn't some madwoman, interested only in risks and editorial issues, but that I was concerned with how we ran our business."

Warren Buffett, the legendary stock investor and the company's largest shareholder outside the Graham family, became a close friend and business mentor to Mrs. Graham after he began buying large amounts of Post stock soon after it was first offered publicly in the l970s. "The paper, really the company, always has been the most important thing in her whole life," he said. "This was not a step in the long dance of life; it was the whole show."

By Mrs. Graham's own account, the most difficult part of her business career was a bitter, 139-day strike by the pressmen's union at The Post in 1975 and 1976 that began when strikers set fire to part of the pressroom. It ended with replacement workers being hired.

When Mrs. Graham took over The Post in 1963, she had only modest experience in journalism and no training in business. Shy and vulnerable, she was terrified of asking dumb questions and making mistakes as she entered the mostly male world of publishing, she said later. She was so ill at ease before attending the company Christmas party five months after her husband's death that she spent some time rehearsing how to say "Merry Christmas." She was 46 years old.

Within a decade, she was making momentous decisions about the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. In both instances, she withstood enormous pressure from the White House and other government agencies not to publish, including the possibility of criminal charges for violating espionage laws and challenges to licenses for the company's broadcasting properties. Vindicated by events, she gained a reputation for courage and devotion to principle that carried around the world.

A beloved figure throughout The Post Co., she devoted considerable time to its other holdings, especially Newsweek, for which she traveled widely to assist in its advertising sales and publishing arrangements around the world. She played a major role in The Post's shared ownership and direction, with the New York Times, of the International Herald Tribune.

Through the years, her manner remained the same. A striking figure who stood 5 feet 9 inches tall, she was serious, attentive, well-mannered and generally soft-spoken. She could also be extremely forceful, and she could match Ben Bradlee's well-known facility for colorful language. Although she eventually lost her early diffidence, it was widely remarked that she projected an aura of vulnerability long after she had become a respected figure on the world stage.

In Touch With the Newsroom

Mrs. Graham loved being involved with the news, calling or dropping by the offices of her editors for updates on what the newspaper was covering. She particularly delighted in being the first to give them tips for promising stories that she picked up around town or from her travels around the world.

When she worked in her office at the newspaper on Saturdays, she gathered up small groups of editors and reporters from the newsroom for informal lunches at a nearby coffee shop. And she eagerly accepted invitations to after-hours newsroom parties, accommodating eager young reporters with stories about her career and interviewing them about their lives.

As a manager, her strengths were intelligence, toughness, a willingness to listen and learn, and an ability to judge character. She gave her executives great autonomy, but it was always clear that she was in charge. Bradlee said she "had the guts of a burglar."

Mrs. Graham also insisted that she never be surprised by what she read in the paper, although she believed in leaving most journalistic decisions to her editors.

"People literally do think that I run downstairs and tell them what to print and what not to print. I mean it's so crazy it's hard to answer," she said. "It isn't right for a publisher to tell an editor what to do or not to do. But it is certainly the publisher's responsibility to see that the paper is complete, accurate, fair and as excellent as possible."

Style, the groundbreaking section on culture and lifestyles created by Bradlee in 1969 to replace the traditional women's pages in The Post, was the subject of many of what Mrs. Graham called "continuing conversations" with her editor. She denounced various stories as "bitchy," "tasteless," "snide" or "grisly." She once complained to Bradlee that "clothes, fashion, interiors and the frothy side are all taking a hosing and I am quite fed up with the really heedless eggheadedness of Style."

Bradlee remained determined to pursue his vision for Style and answered another of her suggestions for it by saying, "I can't edit this section unless you get your finger out of my eye."

Stories in The Post about Mrs. Graham's many friends were handled in the same way as stories about anyone else. In an early example in 1968, a book on national security by Robert S. McNamara, a close friend of Mrs. Graham's and former secretary of defense who served on the board of directors of The Post Co., received a scathing and dismissive review in The Post by Ward Just because it scarcely mentioned the conflict in Vietnam.

Mrs. Graham had a more direct involvement with the editorial page of The Post, which was, and is now, run separately from the rest of the newsroom in what is known internally as the "church-state" separation of news-gathering and editorial opinion. In this role, her conversations with editorial page editors sometimes led to major new opinion policies. Such was the case with the editorial stand on the conflict in Vietnam. When the war began, The Post supported it. By 1969, the newspaper had become a major critic of U.S. policy.

A key figure in this evolution was Philip Geyelin, who joined the paper in 1967 and served as editor of the editorial page from 1968 to 1979. Mrs. Graham trusted his insights in foreign affairs. She visited Vietnam in the early 1960s, and she continued to inform herself. Originally, she supported the U.S. effort, but this gave way to doubt as success seemed further and further away and the protest movement gathered force at home. In the end she changed, she said, because "things just happened. We supported the war too long."

Former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, who was often strongly criticized by The Post's editorial page, praised Mrs. Graham yesterday as a publisher "who worked hard to try to get the editorial policies and newsroom of The Post to reflect Washington itself and its people." He said in an interview that she "used The Post editorial board as a bully pulpit for self-determination . . . and she tried to do all she could to bring about healing among the races."

Prosperous Beginnings

Katharine Meyer was born in New York City on June 16, 1917, the fourth of the five children of Eugene Meyer and Agnes Ernst Meyer. They gave their children the advantages of great wealth but also led busy lives of their own.

Eugene Meyer, the son of a prosperous Alsatian Jewish immigrant, was born in Los Angeles. He was a spectacularly successful investment banker and pioneer in investment analysis. J. Pierpont Morgan once said, "Watch out for this fellow Meyer because if you don't he'll end up having all the money on Wall Street." Meyer founded Allied Chemical Co. He was chairman of the Federal Reserve Board under President Herbert Hoover and the first president of the World Bank under President Harry S. Truman.

To Mrs. Graham, her father was "very shy and remote on one level, witty but very distant and unable to be intimate." Eugene Meyer once said to legendary Washington social figure Alice Roosevelt Longworth, "You watch my little Kate. She'll surprise you."

Her mother, Agnes Meyer, was born in New York and was an active patron of the arts and supporter of education. As a young woman living in Paris, she knew many luminaries of the art world. She wrote on a wide range of subjects in The Post and other journals and published three books. Throughout her life, she was attracted to great men she knew, from Auguste Rodin, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Claudel and Thomas Mann to Adlai Stevenson and Earl Warren.

Of Agnes Meyer, who once described herself as "a conscientious but scarcely loving mother," Mrs. Graham said, "She came on so strong you wilted. Ma did hold up almost impossible standards, and I thought everyone was living up to them. I thought I was the peasant walking around among brilliant people."

Mrs. Graham grew up as Katharine Meyer in New York and Washington, where the family had a mansion on Crescent Place just off 16th Street NW. Summers and holidays were spent at the family estate in Mount Kisco, N.Y., or at her father's ranch near Jackson Hole, Wyo., or on trips to Europe. After graduating from the Madeira School, she went to Vassar.

She arrived at college an unquestioning Republican, like her parents. By the end of her freshman year, she was a left-wing Democrat and supporter of the New Deal. After two years, she transferred to the University of Chicago and joined the liberal wing of the American Student Union.

Of the five Meyer children, she was the closest to her parents, and she was the only one to show an interest in journalism. After graduating from college in 1938, she got a job on the San Francisco News for $24 a week. Soon she was covering labor news and the waterfront. One of her sources was Harry Bridges, the head of the longshoremen's union.

In the spring of 1939, at her father's behest, she returned to Washington to edit the letters to the editor at The Post.

Eugene Meyer had bought the newspaper on June 1, 1933, for $825,000 from the estate of Edward B. "Ned" McLean, who had squandered a fortune and was confined to a psychiatric hospital. The sale was conducted under the supervision of a bankruptcy court on the steps of the old Post building on E Street NW near the Willard Hotel. Meyer acted through an intermediary and kept his identity secret until the sale became final. On June 13, 1933, a box on Page 1 announced that Meyer was the new owner.

The Post, founded in 1877, had fallen on hard times. Four other papers in the city were competing for advertising and circulation, and all were in better shape.

Meyer concentrated on advertising, circulation and the editorial page, which soon gained stature as a forum for discussion of public affairs. The business picture improved only slowly. The first profit was not recorded until World War II, and the paper slipped back into the red when peace was declared. In all, Meyer put about $20 million into the enterprise.

Such was the newspaper that Katharine Meyer joined in 1939. Other young staff members introduced her to a group of young men who shared a house, first a row house on S Street NW, then a large house and grounds in Arlington called Hockley Hall. Among them was a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, Philip Leslie Graham. He had been born in the mining town of Terry, S.D., and raised in Florida, where his father made a career in farming, real estate and politics. In Washington, Philip Graham served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed in 1939 and for Justice Felix Frankfurter, who had been one of his professors at Harvard, in 1940.

After getting to know each other at the Hockley group's social gatherings and continuing discussions of life and politics, Katharine Meyer and Philip Graham fell in love. They were married on June 5, 1940, settling down in a two-story row house on 37th Street NW that was just wide enough for a door and one window.

Her Husband and the Paper

Philip Graham planned to follow in his father's footsteps in the Florida legislature and perhaps one day run for the U.S. Senate. (His half brother, Bob Graham, became governor of Florida and a senator). Eugene Meyer had another idea. His only son, Eugene III, who was called "Bill," had become a physician, and Meyer didn't think the role of publisher was suitable for a woman. So he offered it to his son-in-law, and after talking it over with his wife, Philip Graham agreed.

Katharine Graham couldn't have been happier. "Far from troubling me that my father thought of my husband and not me, it pleased me," she wrote in her autobiography. "In fact, it never crossed my mind that he might have viewed me as someone to take on an important job at the paper."

During World War II, Philip Graham enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 and rose to the rank of major. Katharine followed him on military assignments to Sioux Falls, S.D., and Harrisburg, Pa. When her husband went to the Pacific as an intelligence officer, she returned to her work at The Post.

Their first baby died at birth. Elizabeth Morris Graham, now Lally Weymouth, was born in 1943. Donald Edward Graham was born two years later. William Welsh Graham arrived in 1948 and Stephen Meyer Graham in 1952.

In 1946, Mrs. Graham bought the house on R Street NW in Georgetown that was to be her principal residence for the rest of her life. By that time, Philip Graham had started to work at The Post. On Jan. 1, 1946, he became associate publisher. Six months later, when Meyer joined the World Bank, he became publisher. And in 1948, he and his wife became the controlling owners of the company.

Meyer sold 3,500 of the 5,000 Class A shares of voting stock to his son-in-law and 1,500 shares to his daughter. The reason for giving Katharine only a minority interest in the voting stock, Meyer said, was that "you never want a man working for his wife." Mrs. Graham recalled that "curiously I not only concurred but was in complete accord with the idea."

"I really felt I was put on earth to take care of Phil Graham," she said many years later. "He was so glamorous that I was perfectly happy just to clean up after him. I did all the scut work: paid the bills, ran the house, drove the children. I was always the butt of family jokes. You know, good old Mom, plodding along. And I accepted it. That's the way I viewed myself."

In 1954, Philip Graham and Eugene Meyer, who was a close adviser to his son-in-law until his death in 1959, bought the competing morning newspaper, the Times-Herald, for $8.5 million. The Post kept most of the Times-Herald's advertising, features, columnists and comics -- and most of its readers. It immediately jumped ahead of the Evening Star in circulation, and in 1959, it passed the Star in advertising linage. Philip Graham also bought the company's first two television stations.

While running the newspaper, he played a backstage role in politics. President Lyndon Johnson gave him credit for the outlines of the Great Society program. In 1960, he helped persuade John F. Kennedy, another close friend, to take Johnson on his ticket as the vice presidential candidate.

By then, Philip Graham already was in the grip of the illness that would plague him until his death. In 1957, he suffered a nervous breakdown and retired to the couple's farm in Marshall, Va., to recuperate. The diagnosis was manic depression. When he returned to work, periods in which he functioned brilliantly alternated with periods in which he was morose and erratic and drank heavily. The medications that are now used successfully to treat the illness were not then available.

He was twice committed to Chestnut Lodge, a psychiatric hospital in Rockville. Early in 1963, he left his wife for a researcher from Newsweek's Paris office with whom he had started an affair. There were many public embarrassments. On June 20, 1963, after breaking off the affair and returning home, he entered Chestnut Lodge for the second time.

On Aug. 3, "quite noticeably much better," according to his wife, Philip Graham was permitted to go to their farmhouse for the weekend. There, at age 48, he killed himself with a shotgun. Mrs. Graham found him in a downstairs bathroom.

Within days after her husband's death, Mrs. Graham told the board of directors that The Post Co. would stay in the family. On Sept. 20, 1963, after a month's cruise in the Aegean with her mother and daughter and some friends, she assumed the presidency of the company.

"What I essentially did," she said, "was to put one foot in front of the other, shut my eyes and step off the ledge. The surprise was that I landed on my feet."

At first, she relied on Frederick S. "Fritz" Beebe, a New York lawyer who had become chairman of the company after the purchase of Newsweek in 1961. Other important advisers were James Reston, the chief of the New York Times bureau in Washington, and Walter Lippmann, the columnist.

In "Personal History," Mrs. Graham said her biggest handicap was a sense of being inadequate for the task that had befallen her.

"What most got in the way of my doing the kind of job I wanted to do was my insecurity," she wrote. "Partly this arose from my particular experience, but to the extent that it stemmed from the narrow way women's roles were defined, it was a trait shared by most women in my generation. We had been brought up to believe that our roles were to be wives and mothers, educated to think that we were put on earth to make men happy and comfortable and to do the same for our children."

A major theme of her autobiography was the transformation of these attitudes and her emergence as a strong executive.

Becoming a Decision-Maker

One of her first important decisions was one of her most successful. It involved Ben Bradlee, who had worked for the paper from 1948 to 1951. Impatient to get ahead, he left for a job with the U.S. Embassy in Paris and then joined the Newsweek bureau there. He later headed the magazine's Washington bureau. He persuaded Philip Graham to buy Newsweek after the death of Vincent Astor, its previous owner.

Bradlee twice turned down promotions that would have required him to move to New York. Mrs. Graham decided to find out what he did want to do and invited him to lunch at the 1925 F Street Club. He told her that he liked working for Newsweek in Washington but that "I'd give my left one to be managing editor of The Post."

Mrs. Graham was impressed, and it counted a great deal with her that Lippmann and Reston were admirers of Bradlee. After she hired him as an assistant managing editor in 1965, Bradlee quickly moved up to managing editor and then executive editor. Mrs. Graham did not know Bradlee well when they joined forces, but she admired his toughness and his eye for good stories and good reporters. One of the first things she let him do was go on a hiring spree, and the newsroom budget increased rapidly in subsequent years.

They soon became friends as well as colleagues -- there was a special chemistry between them. What made them such a formidable newspaper team was their shared desire to publish stories that had what Bradlee described as "impact."

Pentagon Papers and Watergate

The Pentagon Papers was such a story. It pitted the First Amendment of the Constitution and its guarantee of the right to publish against the government's right to protect secrets. It also involved possible consequences for The Post that threatened its financial stability.

After the New York Times obtained the Pentagon Papers and began publishing stories about them, the Nixon administration obtained a court order barring further publication pending a final higher court decision. The Post obtained its own copy of the papers on the day of that court order, and Bradlee brought reporters to his Georgetown home to begin secretly preparing stories for publication about the 7,000 pages of Vietnam war history.

Post lawyers urged Bradlee to wait until the courts decided the New York Times case. Let the Times carry the burden of the First Amendment argument against the government, they said.

But Post Co. Chairman Fritz Beebe, who joined the debate at Bradlee's home, found the editor and his staff determined to print their own Pentagon Papers stories in the next day's Post. Veteran reporter Chalmers Roberts, who was writing the first day's article, threatened to resign two weeks ahead of his planned retirement and publicly accuse The Post of cowardice if publication was delayed, and Bradlee thought others might resign as well.

Sizable financial issues also were at stake. Any criminal prosecution could imperil the company's then-imminent public offering of $35 million in stock. Moreover, if convicted of a felony under the espionage laws cited in the Times case, the company would lose the licenses for its two Florida TV stations, then worth about $100 million.

The debate lasted for hours. The decision would have to be Mrs. Graham's. With the first edition already on the presses, she received a call at her home, where she was giving a party for a retiring Washington Post business executive. In her library, a tense Mrs. Graham listened on the phone as Beebe, a trusted adviser, explained the dispute. She asked if he would support publishing that day. "I guess I wouldn't," he said, offering less than emphatic opposition and making no mention of the financial risks.

Mrs. Graham nervously asked Bradlee and those on other phone extensions why the rush -- couldn't they talk it over for a day in light of the risks to the paper? But Bradlee pressed for publication, and editorial page editor Geyelin said that "there's more than one way to destroy a newspaper."

With time running out to get a story into The Post's second edition, Graham made the difficult decision: "Go ahead, go ahead, go ahead. Let's go. Let's publish."

The 2 1/2-week Pentagon Papers episode, which ended with victory for the Times and The Post in the U.S. Supreme Court, was a turning point for Mrs. Graham and the newspaper.

But it was to be overshadowed by the issues she began to confront a year later, after Post Managing Editor Howard Simons phoned her at home on a Saturday, June 17, 1972, to tell her, as was his habit, what stories the paper was working on. Simons told her of two strange developments the night before: A car had driven through a house where two people were making love on a sofa -- and five men had been arresting after breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office building.

During the more than two years of the Watergate scandal that followed, The Post Co. was the target of unrelenting hostility from the White House and its friends.

Nixon, it was learned later, told aides, "The main thing is The Post is going to have damnable, damnable problems out of this one. They have a television station . . . and they're going to have to get it renewed." Suddenly, four challenges were filed against the company's Florida TV license renewals, triggering a 50 percent plunge in the price of Post stock.

The White House orchestrated intense attacks on articles by two young Post reporters -- Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein -- that began to flesh out details of White House involvement in the Watergate burglary and its coverup. Nixon's campaign manager, John Mitchell, told Bernstein that if The Post printed a story about him sharing control, while he was attorney general, of a secret fund to gather intelligence on Democrats, "Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer." And a Wall Street friend with administration contacts ominously warned Mrs. Graham "not to be alone."

But Mrs. Graham again stood behind Bradlee and his staff. "By the time the story had grown to the point where the size of it dawned on us," she said, "we had already waded deeply into the stream. Once I found myself in the deepest water in the middle of the current, there was no going back."

After Nixon's resignation, the newspaper's role in unraveling the Watergate story produced, among other things, worldwide acclaim for Mrs. Graham and the paper, a Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service, a Robert Redford movie based on the Woodward and Bernstein book "All the President's Men" -- and discomfort as well as pleasure for the paper's publisher. With all the attention The Post was receiving, she feared that the staff might be distracted from its daily work, that the paper might become too taken with itself, "that if your profile gets too high it will be a target."

However, she prized a gift Woodward had presented to her: a $10 antique washing machine wringer, signed by editors and reporters who played key roles in the Watergate coverage. She kept the wooden wringer in her corporate office, near her desk.

Mrs. Graham also accepted and capitalized on her growing global stature. She connected local, national and international figures she met with each other, with Post and Newsweek journalists and with her friends in the Washington establishment. These relationships, often reaching across party and ideological divisions, were nurtured at the large dinners and receptions she held in her home.

By this time, Mrs. Graham had acquired glamour as well as fame and influence. The writer Truman Capote in 1966 had thrown a masked ball in her honor at the Plaza Hotel in New York -- guests wore black and white attire -- that became famous in the annals of party-giving. When friends persuaded her to pay attention to clothes, she patronized Halston, Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass. Her house on R Street in Georgetown, filled with fine art, became one of Washington's leading salons. And she later bought and renovated a house on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, where in the summer she entertained streams of friends.

Some of her pleasures were modest. With Meg Greenfield, who in 1979 succeeded Geyelin as editor of the editorial page, she sometimes sneaked away from the newspaper for an afternoon at the movies.

Learning the Business Side

It was harder for Mrs. Graham to make her mark as a businesswoman than as a news executive. For several years, she could not find the management team she wanted, and as executives came and went, critics described her as erratic and arbitrary. Supporters said the process showed she set high standards and insisted that they be met.

She was criticized for her missteps -- often, she thought, rightly so. What she despised was the sexist way that her mistakes, particularly with executives, were ascribed to the belief that she was a "difficult woman" to work with, one who acted on female whims. She was well aware, as she said, that male corporate heads "fired executive after executive, but no one attributed their actions to their gender."

She was no longer the person who, in the 1960s, had "adopted the assumption of many of my generation that women were intellectually inferior to men, that we were not capable of governing, leading, managing anything but our homes and our children."

She found an influential mentor in Buffett, the investor from Omaha. Buffett, who had been a Post carrier as a teenager after his father's 1942 election to Congress, became the company's largest stockholder outside the Graham family as well as one of its directors. He brought her stacks of corporate annual reports and explained their mystifying numbers. He advised her against acquiring what he considered overpriced media properties.

Some investments were still unsuccessful. In 1974, the company bought the Trenton (N.J.) Times. In 1981, it was sold to cut losses. In 1980, it started Inside Sports, a monthly magazine. A year later, after $20 million had been spent, it too was sold.

The most difficult task, however, was transforming The Post Co. from a relatively small, family-owned business into a major modern corporation. Mrs. Graham found that control over crucial aspects of producing the newspaper was held by various craft unions, which had no incentive for increased efficiency or the introduction of new technology. If profitability was going to be increased, she had to change this.

By the early 1970s, the unions for both the printers, who set stories in type, and the pressmen, who ran the presses that printed the paper, were using slowdowns as bargaining tactics in contract negotiations in which the company sought work rule changes. Press runs often were so late that morning delivery schedules were missed. As production costs rose, profit margins decreased. Complaints from readers and advertisers proliferated.

"I was beside myself with worry," Mrs. Graham said. "Night after night, the questions were: How could we get tomorrow's paper out, and how late would it be?"

In 1973, she and her management team found during a wildcat walkout that nonunion Post workers, trained to use new computer and photocomposition technology, could put out the paper without the printers. The printers got the point: In September 1974, in return for cash buyouts and guaranteed lifetime jobs, they agreed to accept the new technology.

Negotiating a way out with the pressmen proved more difficult as a contract deadline approached at midnight on Sept. 30, 1975. At 5 a.m. on Oct. 1, Mrs. Graham was awakened by a telephone call from Mark Meagher, The Post's general manager. The Post's pressmen, he told her, had gone on a rampage. They had sabotaged the presses, set fire to one of them and beaten their night foreman, Jim Hover, who had come to Meagher's office with a bloodied head to report the news.

Thus began what Mrs. Graham termed her "business-side Watergate," a 139-day strike that climaxed a series of Post labor conflicts, ironic battles for a woman with a history of pro-labor leanings as a university student and young journalist. But however sympathetic she may have been toward labor, as a publisher she was exasperated by the powers that Post production unions had been ceded because of long-standing management fears that a strike would send readers and advertisers fleeing to the Washington Star.

When she drove to the paper early on the morning of Oct. 1, Mrs. Graham found firetrucks, police cars, flashing red lights and shouting pickets. In the ensuing days, the scene outside The Post sometimes resembled a war zone. Helicopters landed on the roof to fly pages to six plants that had agreed to print an abbreviated Post while the paper's presses were being fixed. Several employees, including editorial and commercial workers who had voted to cross the picket line because of the pressroom violence, were beaten. Verbal attacks were hurled at the publisher, with one sign at a union rally declaring, "Phil shot the wrong Graham."

Inside The Post, Mrs. Graham worked cheerfully beside the others, taking classified ads, bundling papers in the mailroom, fielding subscriber complaints and cleaning up trash in the pressroom, where newly trained employees had begun to run the presses as they were repaired. Privately, though, she was in deep despair.

"The uncertainties, the difficulties, the violence against the people who were working, the fear that the Star would use the opportunity to turn the tables, were all overwhelming," she said. "I felt desperate and secretly wondered if I might have blown the whole thing and lost the paper."

But she wouldn't waver in her determination to have management manage the pressroom and to remove any pressmen involved in the violence, two of the terms the union wouldn't accept. So the strike dragged on with no hope of a settlement, and The Post succeeded in putting out larger and larger papers without its blue-collar workers.

In December, after the pressmen overwhelmingly rejected a final contract offer, The Post began hiring and training replacement workers, a fatal blow to the union. With the new crews running the presses, the mailers' union voted in mid-February to accept a new contract, and other unions soon followed. The pressmen maintained a picket line for many more weeks, but the strike was over, as was their union's existence at The Post.

The once passive Mrs. Graham, who had long thought of herself as a "Goody Two Shoes," as always trying to please, clearly was no longer the same person.

In 1981, after years of decline, the Washington Star went out of business, and for a brief time, The Post was the only newspaper of general circulation published in Washington.

In December 1988, Business Month magazine named The Post Co. one of the five best-managed companies in the nation. Fortune magazine later chose Mrs. Graham for its Business Hall of Fame.

When she had taken control of the newspaper in 1963, The Post Co. had revenue of $84 million. In 1991, when Mrs. Graham stepped down as chief executive, revenue was $1.4 billion. The company's stock, first offered to the public in 1971, has been one of Wall Street's most spectacular performers.

In addition to The Post and Newsweek, the corporation now includes the Herald newspaper in Everett, Wash.; television stations in Detroit, Houston, San Antonio, Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla.; cable television operations in 19 states; Kaplan Inc., which provides test preparation, education and career services; Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, an electronic information company that publishes washingtonpost.com on the Internet; Post Newsweek Tech Media Group, a publisher of business periodicals; the Gazette Newspapers, publishers of community newspapers in suburban Maryland; and Robinson Terminal Warehouse Co. The Post Co. also has interests in Bowater Mersey Paper Co., the International Herald Tribune newspaper and the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service.

Graham credited others for a good deal of the company's business success, particularly Buffett and Richard D. Simmons, former president of Dun & Bradstreet, whom she named Post Co. president in 1981. Simmons was the seasoned chief operating officer Graham had long been seeking, a partner to whom she gave free rein in managing the company and who made shrewd decisions with her on what and what not to acquire. A Merrill Lynch analyst termed Simmons's tenure "one of the best 10 years that anybody has seen in any company and in any stock."

While Graham cited many other people, as well as sheer luck, for playing vital roles in the company's success, the driving force behind it all was her passionate devotion to the company. "I loved my job, I loved the paper, I loved the whole company," she said.

She remained active in the company and the community after her retirement, hosting newly elected Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at her home, actively participating in interviews that Post and Newsweek editors and reporters had with newsmakers in Washington and New York, leading delegations of editors and reporters on visits to heads of state overseas, lending her presence to charitable events throughout the country and working on such local mattters as improving public schools.

Her dinner parties and receptions were more than just glittering social occasions. "She was a believer in the round table," former secretary of state Shultz said yesterday. "She was a convener. She stimulated conversation and explored ideas. She had an impact because she brought together people who had something to say. She was a big influence in Washington in part because of that."

The Princess of Wales visited Mrs. Graham in Washington on several occasions during the period when Diana was struggling through a divorce from Britain's Prince Charles. Diana and Mrs. Graham joined with fashion editor Anna Wintour, then of Vogue magazine, to host a 1996 charity dinner in Washington that raised about $1 million for breast cancer research. Praising Diana after she died in a 1997 car accident, Mrs. Graham said the princess's social activism "was from her heart. . . . I just admired and liked her a whole lot."

Mrs. Graham made frequent public speeches, particularly on news media issues on which she was widely recognized as an authority, ranging from the roles of investigative reporting and foreign correspondence to the impact of the Internet on the news. Characteristically, she prepared thoroughly for her speeches, interviewing other experts on their subjects at The Post, Newsweek and elsewhere, just as she had done much of the painstaking research for her autobiography.

Before her death, Mrs. Graham had been working on a possible new book, an anthology of stories and essays about Washington from 1917 -- when she was born and her father moved to Washington -- to the present. Among the sources being considered was columnist Joseph Alsop's memoir about dining out in Washington. Mrs. Graham had written some of the introductory material for pieces she was considering even though she was not certain the book would work out.

It was an extraordinary journey, from homemaker to head of one of the world's leading news and publishing companies to one of the best-known and most influential women in the world. All along the way, her heart remained in The Washington Post, of which she once said:

"When my husband died, I had three choices. I could sell it. I could find somebody else to run it. Or I could go to work. And that was no choice at all."

Mrs. Graham is survived by her son Donald E. Graham, The Post's chairman and CEO; her daughter, Lally Weymouth, a Post and Newsweek journalist, of New York; her son William Graham, an investor, of Los Angeles; her son Stephen Graham, a producer, philanthropist and doctoral student of English literature, of New York; 10 grandchildren; a great-grandchild; and a sister, Ruth M. Epstein of Bronxville, N.Y.

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

A leader: Mrs. Graham, 84, went from shy homemaker to pioneer in journalism and business.Watergate: With Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in 1973.