WASHINGTON — As he gazed at the thousands of mourners gathered in the majestic Washington National Cathedral in 2001, it occurred to Benjamin C. Bradlee that his friend and fellow journalism giant, Katharine Graham, would have appreciated the grand send-off. “What a way to go,” he said. “Not bad at all.”
Thirteen years later, the same could be said for Mr. Bradlee. From across the capital and the country, the royalty of politics and media — the power brokers and the people who cover them — made their way to the same cathedral on Wednesday morning for a televised funeral celebrating the life of Mr. Bradlee, the Washington Post editor who helped force out a president and transform American journalism.
For Washington, it was a tribal event, one of those occasions like inaugurations or State of the Union addresses when the city briefly suspends the petty bickering, cynical spinning and strategic conniving to take stock and reflect on the lives and forces that shape its ways. The tribe, strained as it has been in recent years and on the verge of another election threatening a new seismic shift, assembled to grieve the loss of one of its leading protagonists.
The service for Mr. Bradlee, who died last week at 93, bore all the hallmarks of capital ritual: processions of leaders from both political parties, meticulous orchestration befitting a state dinner and live coverage on C-Span. There were elaborate security details, satellite trucks, buses of Post journalists, and a fair share of neck-craners gathered outside the cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue.
After the pageantry of the funeral, which started at 11 a.m., was to come another Washington ritual, one perfected over the years by none other than Mr. Bradlee and his wife, Sally Quinn, the journalist and prominent hostess.
Hundreds of friends and admirers planned to descend on the couple’s well-known Georgetown house, once owned by a son of Abraham Lincoln, for a reception featuring drinks and the memories of a storied life.
Mr. Bradlee’s death touched off a torrent of remembrances and tributes in recent days, often from the many journalists he hired and supported over the years as executive editor of The Post from 1968 to 1991. None were more consequential than Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Watergate investigative team that considered Mr. Bradlee a father figure. Both men were scheduled to speak at the service at the cathedral.
“He was an original of his own creation, different from everybody else in his newsroom — different in temperament, different in outlook, and different even in his physicality and his language (a mix of high-church English and the locution of a savvy sailor),” the two wrote in an appreciation in The Post. “He transformed not only The Washington Post but also the nature and priorities of journalism itself.”
Others asked to speak include Donald E. Graham, who took over from his mother, Mrs. Graham, as The Post’s publisher and later chairman before selling the newspaper last year. Also scheduled were Tom Brokaw, the retired NBC News anchor; David Ignatius, the Post columnist; Walter Pincus, a longtime Post reporter; and two of Mr. Bradlee’s sons, Benjamin Jr. and Quinn.
The readers were to be Mr. Bradlee’s daughter, Marina Bradlee Murdock; his stepdaughter, Rosamond Casey; his doctor, Michael Newman; the former Post publisher, Boisfeuillet Jones Jr.; and Gerald Rafshoon, who was President Jimmy Carter’s White House communications director.
Among the dignitaries attending were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Secretary of State John Kerry and Justice Stephen G. Breyer, as well as a phalanx of other political and journalistic stars. The 18 pallbearers included a former cabinet secretary (Joseph A. Califano Jr.) and the 25 ushers included a former senator (Tim Wirth).
Ms. Quinn, who founded a website on religion called On Faith, made sure the traditional Episcopal service led by the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral, would also include “Ave Maria,” often performed at Roman Catholic funerals, and Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. The program featured a glamorous Annie Leibovitz photograph of a tanned and open-shirted Mr. Bradlee strolling on a beach. Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” will be performed along with the Navy Hymn, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful.” The service was to close, naturally enough, with “The Washington Post March.”
If the guest list read like a Who’s Who of Washington, it was the kind of crowd that Mr. Bradlee moved through with ease. A product of a prominent Boston Brahmin family, a graduate of Harvard and a Navy veteran of World War II, Mr. Bradlee rose from Newsweek reporter to friend of President John F. Kennedy and eventually to the pinnacle of his business.
Brash and charismatic, he earned fame by promoting the publication of the secret Pentagon Papers about Vietnam and shepherding the Woodward-Bernstein coverage of Watergate that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation.
Mr. Bradlee, played by Jason Robards in the film “All the President’s Men,” became the most celebrated newspaper editor of his generation, if not many generations. Even his most grievous error, the publication of a reporter’s fabricated article on an 8-year-old heroin addict, was largely forgiven despite the flaws it exposed in the system he had built.
After Mr. Bradlee retired as The Post’s executive editor, he remained an active and visible figure both in the newsroom and in Washington social circles.
He was a living symbol of a more heroic image of journalism at a time when the trade had become increasingly challenged by financial shifts that have crippled many newspapers as well as by credibility issues that have left its public standing at a dismal low. President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year. He had slowed down only in recent years, as dementia took its toll.
In an interview on C-Span aired shortly before Mr. Bradlee died, Ms. Quinn described his declining days.
“I don’t think we have ever been as loving with each other as we are now,” she said. “And you know, we spend a lot of time together, and we hold hands, and he knows me and he loves having me there. And it’s just extremely rewarding to be able to be there for him now and try to make him happy and give him as much love as I can until he dies.”