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About Philip Leslie Graham
Philip Leslie Graham was an American publisher and businessman. He was the publisher (from 1946 until his death) and co-owner (from 1948) of The Washington Post. He was married to Katharine Graham, the daughter of Eugene Meyer, the previous owner of The Washington Post.
He was born on July 18, 1915 in Terry, South Dakota to Ernest R. ("Cap") Graham and Florence Morris. His father made a career in farming and real estate and his mother had been a schoolteacher in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Graham was one of four children. One half brother, Bob Graham, is a former governor of the state of Florida (1979–1987) and a former United States Senator representing Florida from 1987 to 2005.
Graham attended Miami High School and graduated from the University of Florida in 1936, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, and from Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review and earned a magna cum laude degree, in 1939. Graham was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (Florida Upsilon chapter) and was both a fraternity brother and roommate of the late Senator George A. Smathers whom he had been close to since attending Miami High School with Smathers. In 1939–1940 he was law clerk to United States Supreme Court Justice Stanley F. Reed, and the following year he was clerk to Justice Felix Frankfurter, who had been one of his professors at Harvard.
During World War II, Graham enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a private (1942) and rose to the rank of major. His wife followed him on military assignments to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania up until 1945, when he went to the Pacific theatre as an intelligence officer of the Far East Air Force.
In 1946, when Washington Post publisher Eugene Meyer was named the first president of the World Bank, he passed the position of publisher to Graham. When Meyer left the World Bank later that year, he took the title of chairman of the board of the Washington Post Company, leaving Graham as publisher.
In 1948, Meyer transferred his actual control of the Post Company stock (the company was privately owned) to his daughter Katharine Graham and her husband Phil. She received 30 percent as a gift. Phil received 70 percent of the stock, his purchase financed by his father-in-law. Meyer remained a close adviser to his son-in-law until his death in 1959, at which time Graham assumed the titles of President and Chairman of the Board of the Post company.
While running the Washington Post and other parts of the Post Company, Graham played a backstage role in national politics.
In 1960, he helped persuade his friend John F. Kennedy to take Lyndon Johnson on his ticket as the vice presidential candidate, personally talking with both men multiple times during the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, California. During the 1960 campaign, he wrote drafts of for several speeches that Johnson gave. After Kennedy and Johnson were elected in November, he successfully lobbied for the appointment of Douglas Dillon as Secretary of the Treasury, and had multiple discussions with Kennedy about other appointments. In the several years after the inaugural, he continued to write occasional drafts of speeches, primarily for Johnson, but also for the President and for Robert F. Kennedy.
In 1961, Kennedy named Graham to serve as an incorporator for the Communications Satellite Corporation, known as COMSAT, a joint venture between the private sector and government for satellite communications. In October 1961, he was appointed chairman of the group.
On June 5, 1940, he married Katharine Graham, the daughter of Eugene Meyer, a multi-millionaire and the owner of The Washington Post, a struggling newspaper at the time. The couple settled down in a two-story row house. Their first baby died at birth. Four children followed: Elizabeth ('Lally') Morris Graham, now Weymouth (born July 3, 1943), Donald Edward Graham (April 22, 1945), William Welsh Graham (born 1948), and Stephen Meyer Graham (born 1952).
Through the Post Company's Newsweek arm, Graham eventually met Australian journalist Robin Webb, and in 1962 they began an affair. In 1963, he and Webb flew to Arizona; he appeared at a newspaper publishing convention inebriated and/or manic. At the microphone he made a number of provocative comments, including the revelation that Kennedy was sleeping with Mary Pinchot Meyer. His assistant, James Truitt, called for his doctor, Leslie Farber, who flew in by private jet, as did (subsequently) Graham's wife. Graham was sedated, bound in a straitjacket, and flown back to Washington. He was committed for five days to Chestnut Lodge, a psychiatric hospital in Rockville, Maryland.
Graham then left his wife for Robin Webb, announced to his friends that he planned to divorce his wife and immediately remarry, and indicated that he wanted to purchase sole control of the Post Company. In June, in a fit of depression, he broke off his affair and returned home. On June 20, 1963, he entered Chestnut Lodge for the second time, and was formally diagnosed with manic depression (now called bipolar disorder). He was treated with psychotherapy.
On August 3, 1963, after Graham had made repeated requests of his doctors to be allowed a short stay away from the hospital, and "quite noticeably much better", according to his wife, he was permitted to go to their farmhouse in Virginia, Glen Welby, for the weekend. While his wife was in another part of the retreat, Graham committed suicide with a 28-gauge shotgun.