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Former ‘Aiken Standard’ reporter brings story of Missy LeHand to museum

September 25, 2018

Author Kathryn Smith, a former Aiken Standard reporter, brought to life Sunday a woman who had a significant influence on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his political career in the early 20th century.

Smith is the author of “The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency.”

Dressed in a period print dress, classic pearls, vintage hat and spectator pumps, Smith told of the story of Marguerite Alice LeHand, known as Missy, who was Roosevelt’s personal secretary for more than 20 years, including almost a decade in the White House. Smith, adding detail to her nostalgic look with a charm bracelet on her wrist, one of LeHand’s signature fashion items, spoke at the Aiken County Museum at a presentation sponsored by the Friends of the Museum.

During the first half of her presentation, Smith spoke in character as LeHand, taking on a New England accent of Massachusetts, where LeHand’s family, Irish immigrants, moved when she was a young child.

As LeHand, Smith offered insights – often humorous – into Democratic and Republican politics from the 1920s to the 1940s, adding a few contemporary asides. South Carolina voted solidly Democratic in the 1932 presidential election, and Roosevelt won the state by a landslide with 98 percent of vote, the most of any state.

About halfway through the presentation, Smith took off her hat, let her hair down and spoke as herself, talking about LeHand’s role and influence in the White House as Roosevelt’s confidante, second hostess when Eleanor Roosevelt was away, policy advisor and friend.

After the presentation, Smith answered questions about Roosevelt’s relationship with the Supreme Court; LeHand’s role as what has been called the first chief of staff long before the position was created officially; and Roosevelt’s relationship with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, an Aiken Winter Colony resident.

Rutherfurd was with Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Georgia, when he died in April 1945 but rushed back to Aiken before Eleanor Roosevelt arrived later.

Smith, with author Kelly Durham, has expanded LeHand’s story into a mystery series of fictional detective novels, “Shirley Temple Is Missing” and “The President’s Birthday Ball Affair.”

Smith, who lives in Anderson, has given more than 150 talks about LeHand and Roosevelt at venues including the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York; the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia; and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta.

In addition to her journalism career, Smith has been a nonprofit executive director, ghost writer, community theater manager and working mother.

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