POTSDAM – A Potsdam native who served as private secretary to Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt for 21 years is receiving renewed attention with the airing of the 14-hour PBS documentary, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.”
Marguerite "Missy" LeHand, born Sept. 13, 1898 in Potsdam, was to have received half the income from FDR’s vast estate upon his death, according to a biographyMissy LeHand at work at her desk of LeHand by Audrey Burtrum-Stanley of Arkansas posted on FindAGrave.com. LeHand was the daughter of Daniel J and Mary J. (Graffin) LeHand.
Unfortunately, she died July 31, 1944, nine months before FDR’s death on April 12, 1945, so she never received any of his estate.
However, in March 1945, one month before FDR died, the 18,000-ton S. S. Marguerite A. LeHand cargo vessel, named in honor of the Potsdam native, was christened, “carrying the blessing of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt,” the Ogdensburg Journal reported at the time.
The ship “slipped into Singing River” at a “Mississippi port on the first stage of a journey that its builder said was aimed at Tokyo,” reported the Ogdensburg Journal.
The seven-part Ken Burns Roosevelt series follows the lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor, three members of the one of the most prominent and influential families in American politics. The film began airing this week and follows the Roosevelts for more than a century, from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962.
LeHand was so close to the Roosevelts that some questioned whether she may have been FDR’s mistress.
However, she was also close to FDR’s wife, Eleanor. Mrs. Roosevelt accompanied Missy to the funeral of her mother at St. Mary’s Church in Potsdam in NovemberPres. Franklin D. Roosevelt confers with his long-time secretary 1932, the Norwood News reported at the time.
Burtrum-Stanley says LeHand’s “work on the Cox-Roosevelt campaign along with her dedication to Roosevelt” is what “inspired the Roosevelts to invite her to work with FDR's personal letters and correspondence.”
As FDR’s secretary, LeHand “was paid $5,000 per year (half of what a male secretary would receive),” according to Burtrum-Stanley’s account, which follows:
“She had a room at Roosevelt's home in Hyde Park as well as at the family's Manhattan townhouse. She was afforded a tiny room on the third floor of the White House.
“Missy went with Roosevelt on several trips to Florida and Georgia, leading many to speculate she was perhaps more than a hired employee -- that she might be Mr. Roosevelt's mistress. Their ‘relationship’ lasted almost a quarter of a century.
“President Roosevelt was so devoted to her he literally rewrote his final legal will -- leaving half of the income from his estate to Missy. (By this time she was in need of care after she had suffered a stroke). The remaining half of his estate was willed to his wife, Eleanor.
“In June 1941, LeHand collapsed at a White House dinner and after two weeks, she developed a major stroke, leaving her partially paralyzed and lacking in most of her speech function.
“After treatment at Warm Springs, LeHand, who remained an invalid, was taken to the home of her sister. She would sit at the family's holiday dinner tables and weep -- sad because FDR had not telephoned her as he once did.
“She was brokenhearted over having felt as though she was cast-off and forgotten. (Little did she know FDR had left her half of his vast estate in his will -- authored AFTER her stroke. He just could not bear to talk nor see her so physically damaged -- but she knew none of this and never would live to know of his deed.)
“She died amongst her family at home -- and away from Washington and FDR.
“Eleanor Roosevelt attended LeHand's funeral. Bishop (later Cardinal) Richard Cushing presided.”