A former White House butler who had served under 11 U.S. presidents has died as a result of contracting the coronavirus, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday. He was 91.
Willson Roosevelt Jerman witnessed a half-century of history unfold from his job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and worked for commanders in chief from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama, according to BuzzFeed.
“A very close relationship with Jackie O”
Born into a poor family in North Carolina, Jerman moved to Washington, D.C., in the 1950s and secured a job cleaning the White House during the Eisenhower administration.
Years later, after sparking a friendship with first lady Jackie Kennedy, his granddaughter Jamila Garrett said President John F. Kennedy promoted him to the position of butler.
“He had a very close relationship with Jackie O,” Garrett said in an interview with The New York Times. “She trusted him with her children, and he would ensure they had everything they needed in the White House.”
Between 1957 and 1993 — and then again in a part-time capacity from 2003 to 2012 — he also worked as an elevator operator at the White House, according to BuzzFeed.
In addition to remarks from Garrett, tributes from former first-family members soon followed news of his death.
Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, issued a statement calling Jerman a “lovely man,” adding that he was “the first person we saw in the morning when we left the residence and the last person we saw each night when we returned,” the New York Post reported.
“Willingness to go above and beyond”
A photograph of Jerman taken in 2009 was included in former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. She also provided a statement recognizing his “willingness to go above and beyond for the country he loved and all those whose lives he touched,” BuzzFeed noted.
The fitting tributes likely pleased Garrett, who said she wants her grandfather to be remembered for the values he instilled in those closest to him.
“I want the world to remember my grandfather as someone who was really authentic, always being yourself,” she told The New York Times. “That’s what he taught our family.”
As the coronavirus death toll continues to mount nationwide, the staggering numbers can minimize the impact each loss has on friends and family members. In light of the attention media attention surrounding Jerman’s death, this is an important opportunity to consider the real humanitarian toll caused by this pandemic.