Donald Graham knows a little diplomacy and the personal touch go a long way.
He greeted guests warmly and drew them into conversation during the cocktail hour before being honored Tuesday by the American Jewish Committee at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan.
Among the well-wishers were political, business, academic and media heavyweights: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, Billie Tisch, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Donald and Susan Newhouse, Michael Gould, Terry Lundgren, Thomas Murphy and Newsweek’s Richard Smith. Gould saw Graham decidedly more dressed up in a pinstriped suit and asked, “Where’s the sweater?”
Gould presented Graham, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co. and chairman of The Washington Post, with the AJC Human Relations award.
First, however, he called on Warren Buffet for a Graham anecdote. Buffet, a member of The Washington Post Co. board, recalled a board meeting years ago at the home of Graham’s mother, and predecessor at the company, Katharine Graham. Robert McNamara, who was defense secretary under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, offered $5 to anyone who could name Lincoln’s vice president in 1861. Buffet said he told him, “‘I’ll bet you $5 Don will know the answer when he walks in.'” Of course, he did — Hannibal Hamlin, who had been a senator from Maine.
“His mind is so encyclopedic,” Buffet said. “Anyone else with that kind of knowledge would need to show it to everyone else and Don never has.”
Graham is the third generation in his family to hold the reins at The Washington Post — Katharine Graham succeeded her husband, Philip. His maternal grandfather, Eugene Meyer, bought the newspaper at a bankruptcy sale in 1933.
Bloomberg noted Graham is a savvy publisher and a sound businessman, an unlikely combination. “He understands the industry as well as anyone can and he is respected by his employees and in this modern day, most publishers aren’t because they’re the suits,” the mayor said. “He gets a lot from his mother — whom I knew well. He’s a real journalist and businessman.”
And, citing board members such as Buffet and Melinda Gates, Bloomberg added, “You can tell a lot about a company from its board members.”
Spitzer recalled that Graham was a Washington police officer for a year “after he got back from [serving] in Vietnam. I think that says everything that can be said about him. He is someone who doesn’t take his position or stature for granted.”
Having served on the Pulitzer Prize board with Graham, Bollinger described him as a force for quality journalism, “which a lot of us fear is going away.”
Graham, whose sister Lally Weymouth was often at his side Tuesday, enjoyed all the New York glad-handing. “I love it,” he said.