Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Margaret Truman Daniel

She was an only child in the White House, a Daddy's girl if there ever was one. Harry Truman doted on her and, when the Washington Post gave her singing concert a bad review, Truman fired off the most intemperate letter a President ever sent to a newspaper.

"I have never met you," Truman wrote to the critic, "but if I do you'll need a new nose and plenty of beefsteak and perhaps a supporter below."

Margaret Truman gave up singing, married a New York Times reporter, had four sons and starting writing books and magazine articles, some of them for me.

I first met her in 1953 when I was editing an alumni magazine. After leaving the White House, Truman came to the Waldorf to speak at our annual dinner. I elbowed my way into the crowd of photographers firing a dazzle of flash bulbs and strobe lights at him.

When they were herded out, I stayed behind with my 35mm camera with no flash for a few more exposures. Truman noticed the soft hiss-clicks of the shutter and walked up to me.

"How many pictures have you taken?" he asked.

I did a quick calculation--three rolls, 36 frames. "About a hundred."

His expression did not change. "I hope your camera breaks," he said and walked off.

Margaret, who overheard, touched my elbow and tried to console me. "He doesn't mean it. Flashbulbs hurt his eyes."

Years later, when she was writing for McCalls, Margaret Truman confided that as a kid she had always wanted an electric train set. I sent her one.

She died today in a week when Caroline Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama and Chelsea Clinton was on the campaign trail for her mother. First Families have changed since Margaret Truman's time, but she was a kind and caring woman whose books about the place, including murder mysteries, will be a lasting part of White House lore.

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