Kathryn Smith: The Gatekeeper

December 5, 2017: What a treat to have Kathryn Smith as our speaker. Kathryn is a journalist and writer with a lifelong interest in FDR. She has lived all her life in Georgia and South Carolina, and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Georgia. She worked as a daily newspaper reporter and editor, and has been the book columnist for the Anderson Independent Mail for twenty years. She has been involved through Rotary International in the worldwide effort to eradicate polio, called PolioPlus. She has published two books, the most recent of which is The Gatekeeper.

Kathryn came dressed as the subject of her book The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s personal secretary. The fox fur she wore and her Boston accent helped complete the picture of Ms. LeHand, who was considered the first female “Chief of Staff.” Ms. LeHand grew up in an Irish Immigrant family and became a civil servant. She then was recruited to work on FDR’s 1920 Vice-Presidential campaign, and, thereafter, became his personal secretary and remained so until her death. FDR contracted polio in 1921, and finding a cure was one of his lifelong passions.

Kathryn gave us a history lesson as she discussed Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, the stock market crash of 1929, and FDR’s subsequent presidential election. We learned that FDR started the March of Dimes, which is the reason he is on the American dime. We also learned that FDR was in Charleston several times, and gave a speech at The Citadel in 1935.

Ms. LeHand died very young, at the age of 47, having been very influential behind the scenes in the life of Franklin Roosevelt and his entire family. The Roosevelt’s still maintain her grave in Boston. She was so important to FDR that he left half his money to his wife and half to Missy LeHand.

The Gatekeeper is available for sale, and was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal as a “fine biography” and “compelling personal story.”

Lisa Van Bergen, Keyway Committee