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Wilson Roosevelt Jerman, White House staffer who served 11 presidents, dies of coronavirus at 91, family says

Lives to Remember: 5/29/20
Lives to Remember: Michael Halkias, Lysa Dawn Robinson and more 04:29

Wilson Roosevelt Jerman, one of the longest-serving White House employees, died last week from coronavirus, his granddaughter told Washington, D.C. station WTTG in an interview Tuesday. Jerman was 91.

He had a presidential name and spent time with many of them — 11 presidents, to be exact. Jerman started working at the White House as a cleaner in 1957, rising to doorman and butler before retiring in 2012, his granddaughter, Jamila Garrett, told the station.

Jerman worked for every president from Eisenhower to Obama. An iconic photo shows him in the elevator with Mr. and Mrs. Obama as they rode to the family quarters of the White House at the end of the day.

President Barack Obama
This photo of Jerman with the Obamas also appears in former first lady Michelle Obama's book and was one of several images his granddaughter, Jamila Garrett, provided to WTTG.  Samantha Appleton/White House Photo via Getty Images

This photo of Jerman with the couple also appears in former first lady Michelle Obama's book and was one of several images his granddaughter provided to WTTG. 

In the interview, Garrett took time to thank Mrs. Obama for including her grandfather in the book. "You know, just considering that we aren't able to grieve normally, physically together, that is one way that we are able to still feel connected to his success and connected to so much that he promoted around authenticity and building relationships," she said.

WTTG reports Jerman and his wife had five children, 12 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. 

"My grandfather was a family-loving, genuine man," Garrett told WTTG reporter Shawn Yancy. "He was always about service. Service to others. It didn't matter who you were or what you did or what you needed, whatever he could provide he did."

He made a deep impression on some of America's greatest leaders and their families. "Jackie O. actually promoted him to a butler because of the relationship. She was instrumental in ensuring that that happened," Garrett said.

She also recounted warm memories of the Bush family. After the elder President Bush took office, Garrett said, "George Bush Jr. has a little trouble adapting to a new environment, some trouble sleeping. Well, my grandfather would actually sit with him in his bedroom until he fell asleep."

Garrett called her grandfather "authentic."

"He always taught us that there will always be obstacles in your life. Always. They won't disappear. It doesn't matter your status, it does not matter your role or what you do, there will always be obstacles. But you keep pushing forward," she said. 

Tributes poured in Thursday from former presidents and first ladies who remembered Jerman fondly. 

A statement from Michelle Obama said: "With his kindness and care, Wilson Jerman helped make the White House a home for decades of First Families, including ours. 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.:

Former President and Mrs. Bush said, "Mr. Jerman was a lovely man. He was the first person we saw at the White House when we left the Residence in the morning, and the last person we saw when we returned at night." 

And Hillary Clinton posted a message on Twitter saying, "Bill and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Wilson Roosevelt Jerman," adding that Jerman "made generations of first families feel at home, including ours. Our warmest condolences to his loved ones."

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