Life Magazine editor Ralph Graves


Ralph Graves, a Chilmarker with a long part-time Vineyard pedigree, a former writer, editor and executive at Time Inc., and the last managing editor of the weekly Life magazine, a cultural touchstone for generations of Americans, died on June 10 at his home in Manhattan. He was 88.

The cause was kidney failure, said his wife, Eleanor.

A self-described “summer person,” Mr. Graves for several years wrote a seasonal column for the Vineyard Gazette, where he served on the Edgartown weekly’s board.

In the introduction to his new column, Mr. Graves, said he would take a summer person’s point of view and “take a strong, favorable, biased view of conservation” when commenting on the subject of Vineyard land, values, and principles. And he did, in print and behind the scenes.

Mr. Graves, a former vice president and board member of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation (SMF), was active in the Vineyard community and worked tirelessly on behalf of conservation organizations and causes.

In the late 1990s, he was a key architect of an agreement with SMF that paved the way for the success of the Vineyard Golf Club, and he helped raise money behind the scenes to defeat two competing golf club proposals.

Mr. Graves joined Time Inc. in 1948, as a researcher for Life, and his career there described a steady upward arc. Among other posts he was a reporter in the Time-Life news bureau in San Francisco, Life’s Chicago bureau chief and a senior editor for all of Time Inc.’s magazines, according to an obituary published Sunday in the New York Times.

He became Life’s managing editor, taking over its daily operations, in May 1969.

Within weeks of becoming managing editor, the New York Times reported, Mr. Graves supervised a controversial issue whose cover article, under the headline “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll,” showed photographs of more than 200 American soldiers killed in the Vietnam War from May 28 through June 3.

The article was especially startling appearing in Life, which had a history of supporting the war, and it drew a passionate reaction, both from those who found that it exploited the country’s grief and from those who found it courageous and moving. As a journalistic device, it has since been used by many publications, including The New York Times.

That same year, 1969, Life covered Woodstock, the moon landing (with a 20,000-plus word article by Norman Mailer), and the unlikely success of the New York Mets.

Ralph Augustus Graves was born on Oct. 17, 1924, in Washington. His father, Ralph, who died when his namesake son was a boy, was an editor for National Geographic. His mother, the former Elizabeth Evans, later married West Chop summer resident F. B. Sayre, who became an American official in the Philippines, and young Ralph spent part of his childhood there, the New York Times reported.

Mr. Graves attended Williams College for a year before serving as a cryptographer for the Army Air Forces during World War II. After the war, he went to Harvard and joined Time Inc. after graduating.

Mr. Graves was the author of several books, nonfiction and fiction, including the novel “Orion: The Story of a Rape” (1993), which was based on the rape of his daughter Sara in 1983. It tells of the crime and the victim’s participation, with the police, in tracking down her assailants.

Mr. Graves’s first marriage, to Patricia Monser, ended in divorce. He married Eleanor MacKenzie Parish, an editor at Life, in 1958. She survives him, along with his daughters, Sara Savage and Katherine Venooker, two sons, William and Andrew, two stepsons, William and Alexander Parish, and 11 grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

Eleanor Graves said Mr. Graves will be interred in the Abel’s Hill cemetery in Chilmark at a date to be announced.