by Anne Branigin —
For five decades, former White House butler Wilson Roosevelt Jerman helped make sure everything at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was as it should be. He began his career there as a cleaner when Dwight Eisenhower took office in 1952, eventually rising through the ranks of White staffers and serving each U.S. president up through Barack Obama.
Last weekend, Jerman died from COVID-19. He was 91 years old.
Michelle Obama released a statement to multiple news outlets, including the BBC and BuzzFeed News, paying tribute to the beloved butler, whom she promoted to maître d’ during her tenure at the White House.
“His service to others—his willingness to go above and beyond for the country he loved and all those whose lives he touched—is a legacy worthy of his generous spirit. We were lucky to have known him. Barack and I send our sincerest love and prayers to his family.”
Jerman’s granddaughter, Jamila Garrett, spoke to Fox 5 in DC about her grandfather’s legacy, noting that another former first lady, Jackie Kennedy, was “instrumental” in promoting Jerman to White House butler, the BBC notes.
The perspective White House staffers have on the first family has long been a subject of fascination. In 2013, filmmaker Lee Daniels adapted the story of Eugene Allen, who started working at the White House the same year as Jerman, in his film, The Butler.
Garrett says her grandfather’s commitment to service was all-encompassing, extending well beyond the most famous home in the world.
“He was always about service, service to others. It doesn’t matter who you were or what you did or what you needed,” she told Fox 5.
“I want the world to remember my grandfather as someone who was really authentic, always being yourself,” Garrett continued. “That’s what he taught our family.”
(Anne Branigin is a staff writer for The Root. )