Mary Connelly Graff, 87, a former Temple University professor and an award-winning journalist, died Saturday, Jan. 19, of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at her home at Beaumont at Bryn Mawr.
Mrs. Graff had a long career at publications up and down the eastern seaboard, starting in 1957 as a Newsweek researcher and ending when she retired in 1994 as the society editor of the New York Times, where she also had worked on the Week in Review section.
Investigative journalism and precise use of the written word were Mrs. Graff’s twin passions, and they propelled her to muckrake, teach, and lead in various journalistic roles.
While at the Times, Mrs. Graff designed a program to help minority high school and college students improve writing skills, and she taught in New York City’s privately supported Prep for Prep program.
In Temple’s department of journalism, she served as assistant chairwoman and director of undergraduate programs in 1984 and 1985. From 1980 to 1985, Mrs. Graff mentored many budding journalists, and taught news coverage and investigative reporting.
She wrote a 192-page stylebook for student journalists. It covered everything from how to avoid grammatical mistakes to the proper use of the subjunctive, said John Hall, a former student.
“A writer who can’t tell a phrase from a clause is as trustworthy as a doctor who can’t tell his tibia from his fibula,” she wrote in the book’s introduction.
Her students remembered her as gracious and witty, but also steel-willed. As a freshman journalism major at Temple, Theresa Conroy recalled seeing one of Mrs. Graff’s students crying outside the classroom door.
“That fit with Mary’s rep as the toughest teacher in the department,” said Ms. Conroy, who went on to write for the Inquirer and Daily News and later became a yoga instructor. “She also was one of the kindest. And she whipped me into shape. She helped make me who I was a reporter.”
Before joining the Temple faculty, Mrs. Graff served as an adjunct lecturer at New York University and at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where she earned her master’s degree in journalism in 1982.
Mrs. Graff was the founding chairman of the Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Education Advisory Committee, and was named in 1981 to serve as a liaison between the panel and college journalism teachers nationwide.
Mrs. Graff started her career as a researcher at Newsweek. She won six Publisher’s Awards with the New York Journal-American in 1965 and 1966, and was the first woman to work as a Washington correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. She unearthed mismanagement in the Johnson administration’s anti-poverty program.
At the Baltimore News American, where she did reporting from 1966 to 1969, Mrs. Graff won a city award for revealing bribe-taking in the sanitation department.
She was a reporter at the New York Post from 1969 to 1978, winning a Parks Council award for a 1974 series exposing mismanagement of city parks. She uncovered corruption in the city’s highways and sanitation departments, and coordinated the Post’s coverage of political conventions.
In retirement, Mrs. Graff turned her exacting eye to the Beaumont News, an eight-page monthly newsletter portraying the lives of residents and staff at the senior facility. For 10 years, she prowled the halls of Beaumont, looking for stories.
The daughter of Albert Ray and Eleanor Milburn Connelly, Mrs. Graff was born in New York City. She graduated from the Brearley School there in 1949 and from the University of Michigan in 1954.
Her husband, William Graff, was a New York City police detective and a founding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigator. He had a daughter, Marla Decker, whom Mrs. Graff adopted. He died in October 2018 at age 91.
A lover of the outdoors, Mrs. Graff enjoyed hunting, fishing, boating, horseback riding, and world travel.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a sister.
Plans for a service were pending.