Thursday, October 30, 2014 1:17 am
Movers and shakers in the US capital rubbed shoulders with big-name journalists Wednesday to bid a final farewell to former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.
Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry were among the 2,000 mourners who joined Bradlee’s widow Sally Quinn to pay last respects to a giant of American journalism.
“He pulled off being Bradlee because he wasn’t afraid,” said Carl Bernstein, who with Bob Woodward — and Bradlee’s unwavering support — exposed the Watergate scandal that forced the resignation of president Richard Nixon in 1974.
Bradlee, added Bernstein, harbored no fear “of presidents, of polio, of political correctness, of publishing the Pentagon Papers … (and) of making mistakes.”
Bradlee, who died October 21 at the age of 93, helmed the Post from 1968 to 1991, overseeing its rise from a parochial local daily to a national beacon of journalistic excellence.
His two-hour funeral in the hilltop Episcopalian cathedral that doubles as America’s de facto national place of worship veered from the professional to the personal to the patriotic.
It started with a soloist singing Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen,” as his coffin — draped with a silk white cloth, with a lone white rose — took its place before the alter.
It ended, aptly, with brassy rendition of John Philip Sousa’s upbeat march “The Washington Post,” composed back in 1889 for an essay contest sponsored by the now 137-year-old newspaper.
In between, friends, family and colleagues remembered him with vivid anecdotes, albeit minus the salty language for which Bradlee, a US navy officer in World War II, was famous.
Donald Graham, whose family owned the Post before its 2013 sale to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, said his mother Katharine “literally wrote the book about how great Ben Bradlee was” — a reference to her best-selling and lengthy memoirs.
– No regrets –
As publisher of the Post, he added, she never regretted hiring Bradlee, who accepted the job back in an era when it was unthinkable for a man to accept a woman as his boss.
Woodward, still a member of the Post staff, recalled travelling to California with Bradlee a few years ago for an event, ironically, at the Richard Nixon presidential library.
Going through security, it emerged that Bradlee had no ID card with him, except an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) membership card — and even that was expired.
A security agent blocked his way, until a Moses-like voice rose up from the back of the line, Woodward recalled.
“It’s Ben Bradlee,” announced Vernon Jordan, civil rights activist and aide to president Bill Clinton, whereupon the path was cleared for Bradlee and Woodward to catch their flight.
“He had beat the system again,” Woodward quipped.
Laughter gave way to tears, however, when Quinn Bradlee, 32, the youngest of thrice-married Bradlee’s many children, struggled to keep his emotions in check.
“My father was the happiest man I ever met,” he said. “He lived. He loved. He laughed… People talk about his colorful language, but in my opinion he had the most colorful heart.”
Mourners also paid honor to Bradlee’s pre-journalism days in the military, with a singing of “The Navy Hymn” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” plus “America the Beautiful.”
A trumpeter played “Taps,” and a US Navy sailor dutifully presented a neatly folded American flag to a grateful Sally Quinn, seated in the front pew, with Biden across the aisle.
Then the band optimistically struck up “The Washington Post” as the casket was wheeled away to a private burial, reportedly by a lake outside the US capital.
It was a touch that Bradlee would have liked.