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“This is Washington,” Donald Graham, the CEO of the company that formerly owned the Washington Post, said this morning as he began a tribute to Ben Bradlee during his funeral at Washington National Cathedral. “City of big reputations. And Ben was responsible for puncturing some of those reputations.”
And indeed, it didn’t get more Washington than the funeral of the legendary Washington Post editor who oversaw the Watergate coverage and, at the helm of the paper for nearly 25 years, is credited with shaping it into one of the top news outlets in the country.
The funeral had the makings of every classic Washington event—-not least because it was televised on C-SPAN. There were politicians, celebrity journalists, and even the Post‘s new owner Jeff Bezos temporarily left the west coast to pay his respects. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry had prominent seats in the front row of the cathedral, which has a capacity of about 2,000 people. (The seats were about half-full.) Former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was there shaking hands, as was New York Times editor Dean Baquet. New Yorker editor David Remnick, former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, and prominent lawyer Bob Barnett were all listed as pallbearers.
By 9:15 a.m., dozens of people were lined up outside the cathedral just to get into the 11 a.m. service. (Biden swooped in at the last minute.)
And then, of course, there were gaggles of reporters on the clock, confined to the balcony, straining to see who was in attendance as the enormous cameras of a half dozen photographers aggressively clicked about at high speeds.
The roster of speakers at the funeral read like a line up of the most notable journalists of the recent past. In addition to Graham, Post vets Walter Pincus, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, and David Ignatius spoke. Tom Brokaw also gave a speech.
“I loved this man,” said Woodward, adding that Bradlee’s death marks the end of the 20th century. “He had the courage of an army.”
The funeral wasn’t all business: Bradlee’s oldest and youngest sons Ben Bradlee Jr. and Quinn Bradlee, his son with Post reporter Sally Quinn, both talked about Bradlee as not the editor, but the family man.
“He was the most simple man I ever met,” Quinn Bradlee said in a teary speech. “People talk about his colorful language… but he had the most colorful heart.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery