© 2021 West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Telling West Virginia's Story
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Coronavirus Victims: Former White House Butler Wilson Jerman


And now we want to remember a man who died of COVID-19. Wilson Roosevelt Jerman started working at the White House when Dwight Eisenhower was president. When he retired, Barack Obama was in the Oval Office.


Jerman was first hired to the White House staff as a cleaner in 1957, but his granddaughter Shante Taylor Gay says he worked his way up to butler.

SHANTE TAYLOR GAY: He loved hosting their parties, setting the tables, spreading the napkins, making sure everything was placed on the table correct so they could have a fine dinner.

CHANG: And yes, he did have his favorite first families - both Presidents Bush and President Obama's.

GAY: My grandfather took his job as working with a person and learning that person for who they were instead of worrying about if they were Republicans or Democrats. It was all about the person.

KELLY: As for his own family, like it or not, Jerman brought his work home with him.

GAY: My table manners are 100% 'cause my granddad did not allow us to do anything wrong at the table. Even to the day that he passed, he was teaching my daughter table etiquette and how to set up your tables correctly.

CHANG: And he savored the moments when he could take his own family to work, too.

GAY: My grandfather would bring us to the White House Christmas parties. One year I went, they had a white chocolate model of the White House. It was just amazing. We got to meet a lot of presidents, and he was so proud to introduce us as his grandchildren.

KELLY: Shante Taylor Gay says her grandfather loved working in the White House so much that when he attempted to retire in 2001, it didn't take.

GAY: He came back a few years later 'cause he missed his job, and he loved what he was doing. And he started working as a doorman and being the elevator operator for the president's family.

CHANG: William Roosevelt Jerman continued to work in the White House until he retired for good in 2012. He died of the coronavirus on May 16 at 91 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEVIN SHIELDS' "IKEBANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

WVPB is local news, education, music, and entertainment for West Virginia.
Your donation today will help keep us strong and vital.