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Obituaries

Thomas M. ‘Tom’ Graham, former executive editor of Patuxent Publishing Corp.’s newspapers, dies

Thomas M. “Tom” Graham, former executive editor of Patuxent Publishing Corp.’s newspaper who later became the longtime editor of The Washington Post’s health section, died Wednesday on his 48th wedding anniversary from complications of cancer at his Columbia home. He was 71.

“Tom was a rigorous professional and never casual. He embodied journalistic ethics and held reporters to high standards,” said Jean F. Moon, former editor of The Columbia Flier. “He made them better writers and better thinkers. We all regarded him as an editor who had the capacity to generate affection for the people who worked for him. He was a beloved editor, not a sentimental man, but a man who earned respect.”

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Len Lazarick, who had been the former State House chief and political editor for Patuxent Publishing’s chain of 13 weeklies and from 1988 to 1996 served as managing editor of the company’s Baltimore County papers, had known Mr. Graham since his Boston College days.

“He was a very laid-back and a very rational guy who did not raise his voice. He just didn’t get upset about things,” said Mr. Lazarick, the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and current president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. “There were times when I had trouble with reporters and editors and I’d have to go to Tom to arbitrate disputes and he always brought a sense of calm to the situation. I never saw him get mad in a professional situation.”

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Thomas Michael Graham, son of John Graham, a New York subway conductor, and Mary Graham, a homemaker, was born in New York City and raised in the Bronx.

After graduating from Regis High School, he began his studies at Boston College as a philosophy major. In 1971, he left Boston for a work-study position at the Howard County Times, where he quickly earned a reputation for being a precocious as well as a distinguished reporter.

“I don’t know how he worked it out, but he never went back to Boston and earned his degree in 1973,” Ms. Moon said.

Ms. Moon and Mr. Graham had been friendly newspaper reporters since 1971, when she reported for The Flier, then a fledgling newspaper, and he for the Howard County Times.

“I was offered the job as editor of The Flier in 1973, and I told the publisher I’d take the job if only I could get Tom Graham, because I really respected him and I knew him because we had been competing reporters, as news editor,” Ms. Moon recalled. “It took three months to talk him into it and it was the beginning of a 50-year friendship.”

“Back in those days we were using typewriters and his copy was so amazingly clean,” said Mr. Lazarick, who moved to Columbia from Boston because of Mr. Graham. “As an editor, he’d kick out things that you did that were redundancies. He improved your work and never wanted any credit. That’s always a great quality in an editor.”

In 1983, Mr. Graham, who had risen to news editor of the Columbia Flier and the Howard County Times, was named the first winner of the John Hay Whitney Journalism Award, which provided him with a year tenure as a copy editor on the International Herald Tribune in Paris.

The award was established to honor the late John Hay Whitney, who was the publisher of the New York Herald Tribune and chairman of the board of the International Herald Tribune and Whitney Communications Corp. He died in 1982.

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Mr. Graham later rose to the position of executive editor. During his tenure, the company went from publishing one community newspaper to 13 weeklies, some of which included the Towson Times, Owings Mills Times, Laurel Leader, the Jeffersonian and Belair Road Booster. The Baltimore Sun Co. purchased Patuxent in 1997.

The newspapers he oversaw became perennial “Best in Show” awardees in the annual Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association contests.

Carrie Brown, a noted award-winning novelist and author of “The Stargazer’s Sister” and “The Last First Day,” who also teaches creative writing at Sweet Briar College, had worked for Mr. Graham during the 1980s. In a biographical profile of Mr. Graham provided by his family, she said, “He was the best editor I ever had.”

Mr. Graham left Patuxent in 1998, and went to work as a multiplatform editor for The Washington Post, where he was longtime editor of the newspaper’s health section. He retired in 2019.

While a student at Boston College, Mr. Graham met and fell in love with Mary Kay Sigaty. Years later, said his future wife was a “pretty campus activist with a bullhorn.” The couple married in 1974.

Ms. Sigaty became a well-known craftsperson and artisan, and had served as a member of the Howard County Council from 2006 to 2018.

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For the last two decades, Mr. Graham had contributed significantly to the World Computer Exchange that had been established by a college friend, Timothy Anderson, whose mission is to connect youth around the world to digital resources. He had served as the organization’s inaugural chairman of the board and later was International Advisory Council chairman.

For years, he gathered unwanted computers in the Washington area and coordinated shipments that were sent to communities in Africa and the Caribbean and forged significant partnerships in tech education with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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In his retirement, he and his wife purchased a truck and fifth wheel trailer and embarked on a series of road trips. They enjoyed visiting the historic Texas hill country and Lake Michigan.

They also often traveled toDamariscotta and Round Pond in Maine, which were favorite family vacation destinations.

“Tom was a gentle and optimist force to all those who knew him, his sense of humor always cutting in at the most opportune times,” according to the family profile.

Ms. Moon and Mr. Graham were still communicating by phone.

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“I spoke with him last Saturday,” Ms. Moon said. “He remained a newspaperman to the end. When we spoke, we talked about the news of the day.”

Plans for a celebration-of-life-gathering to be held later this summer are incomplete.

In addition to his wife of 48 years, Mr. Graham is survived by two daughters, Eileen S. Graham of Washington and Bridget S. Graham of Federalsburg; two brothers, Monsignor John Graham and Kevin Graham, both of the Bronx, New York; a sister, Mary Cronk of East Rutherford, New Jersey; and two nephews.


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