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Mamie Geneva Eisenhower 1896-1979

DOUD, EISENHOWER, NIXON, MOORE

Posted By: Sharyl Ferrall
Date: 4/28/2006 at 06:27:30

Mamie Doud Eisenhower, 82, the widow of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and one of the nation's most admired women, died of cardiac arrest yesterday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Mrs. Eisenhower, who had been in failing health in recent years, was hospitalized Sept. 25 after suffering a stroke at the farm in Gettysburg, Pa., which she and Gen. Eisenhower bought in 1950. She had lived on the farm since leaving the White House in 1961.

Despite the gradual onset of infirmities, Mrs. Eisenhower led an active life into ther 80s. She celebrated her 80th birthday with a family party at the Gettysburg farm. In the same year, she attended ceremonies at Gettysburg College commemorating the birthday of her husband, who died on March 28, 1969.

She observed her 81st birthday with friends in Abilene, Kan., Gen. Eisenhower's hometown and the site of the Eisenhower Library. She is to be buried Saturday next to her husband in a chapel on the library grounds.

Until the end, Mrs. Eisenhower looked much the same as she did when she first came to public notice almost 40 years ago as the wife of the man who became the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II: bangs, a carefully matched coat and hat, and the cheerful smile that was her trademark.

When she moved into the White House in 1953, Mamie Eisenhower hung up a little sign: "This is Our Home." It was the same motto, with a prayer beneath, that she had nailed up 28 times during 53 years of married life that took her from the two room apartment of a young Army lieutenant's bride to residency in the Executive Mansion.

"This is Our Home" told the story of Mamie Eisenhower's life. Her husband and her family were the center of her existence. The general, she told an interviewer in 1974, had been her "whole life . . . My husband was the star in the heavens." Asked once what she thought of women's liberation, she replied, "I never knew what a woman would want to be liberated from."

Mrs. Eisenhower once said that she knew "almost from the day I married" that Dwight Eisenhower was destined to become a great man. "He was always dedicated, serious and purposeful about his job." she said. "Nothing came before his duty. I was forced to match his spirit of personal sacrifice as best I could. Being His wife meant I must leave him free from personal worries to conduct his career as he saw it."

For his part, Gen. Eisenhower credited his wife's role in his own success. "If I had listened to Mamie two or three times, I might not have had the opportunities to serve the country that I have had the fortune to have," he said.

During her years as First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower enjoyed a popularity with the American public that rivaled the esteem accorded her husband. There was an unassuming Midwestern folkiness about her that invited almost everyone to call her by her first name. "That is the American way," she explained, "When people call you that and smile, you are complimented."

Most intimates agreed that Mrs. Eisenhower would have been happier living in Gettysburg as the wife of a retired World II hero -- in one of their Army years, the Eisenhowers moved seven times -- than meeting the demands of public life in Washington. She often said that she particularly cherished the period after her husband became president of Columbia University in 1948. They entertained a great deal, his schedule was regular and they even managed frequent lunches together.

But in 1956, which the general chose to seek a second term in the presidency, Mrs. Eisenhower did not object. Eisenhower had suffered one serious illness while in office and there was little doubt among Mrs. Eisenhower's friends that she hoped he would not run again. Once his decision was announced, she let it be known that she wanted "what Ike wants."

On hearing of her death, President Carter issued a statement in which he called Mrs. Eisenhower 'a warm and gracious First Lady" who "carried out her public and private duties, despite a lifetime of fragile health, in a way that won her a special place in the heart of Americans and of people all over the world."

Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of President Lyndon B. Johnson, said Mrs. Eisenhower had "endeared herself to the world as the general's partner. I remember her easy warmth and the vivaciousness that she brought into the room on the many occasions that I knew her."

Former Gov. John Connolly of Texas and George Bush, announced candidates for the Republican presidential nomination next year, also issued statements. Connolly called Mrs. Eisenhower a "woman who lent unparalleled warmth and dignity to the White House." Bush said she "combined the qualities of grace and simplicity as she performed her official duties."

Evangelist Billy Graham, a friend of the Eisenhowers, said 'American has lost a great lady."

An aspect on her later life on which Mrs. Eisenhower never commented were rumors of a wartime romance between Gen. Eisenhower and Lt. Kay Summersby, one of his secretaries and drivers in Europe.

The stories gained currency with the publication in 1974 of "Plain Speaking," a book about President Harry S. Truman by Merle Miller. Miller wrote that Truman told him that one of the last things he did as president was to remove from Gen. Eisenhower's file in the Pentagon a letter in which Eisenhower allegedly told Gen. George C. Marshall, the Army chief of staff, that he wished to obtain a divorce and marry Mrs. Summersby. Marshall reportedly replied that he would have Eisenhower drummed out of the Army if he did any such thing.

Despite extensive searchers by scholars and others, the purported Eisenhower-Marshall exchange never has been found.

The rumors gained new momentum with the publication in 1976 of a book Mrs. Summersby completed shortly before she died of cancer. It was called "Past Forgetting: My Love Affair With Dwight D. Eisenhower," Earlier this year, ABC-TV broadcast a mini-series based on the Summersby book.

Although Mrs. Eisenhower remained silent on these matters, her family did not. In 1977, the made Gen. Eisenhower's wartime letters to his wife available. They were published in 1978 under the title "Letters to Mamie."

Eisenhower characteristically addressed his wife as "darling," my darling," "sweetheart," and "my sweetheart." He signed them "Ike" or "Your Ike."

In a preface to the collection, the Eisenhowers' only surviving son, retired Army Brig. Gen. John D. Eisenhower, called the report that his father considered divorce an "egregious falsehood. There is no evidence," he wrote, that divorce ever seriously crossed Dad's mind, even in the loneliest moments across the Atlantic"

Although Mrs. Eisenhower publicly ignored the matter of Mrs. Summersby, she did speak out in connection with reports that persisted for years that she drank too much. In 1973, she appeared on the Barbara Walters television show, "Not for Women only," and explained that she had long suffered from an inner-ear imbalance called carotid sinus.

"And they can't operate on it," she told Miss Walters. "It has something to do, well, I suppose your jugular vein along here, which presses on your inner ear. Oh, I'm black and blue from walking around my own house . . .

"So it never bothered me if people thought that. I lived with myself. I knew it wasn't so. And my friends knew it was not."

Mamie Geneva Doud was born on Nov. 14, 1896, in Boone, Iowa, of England and Swedish ancestry. She grew up in Boone and in Denver, Colo., where the family moved in 1905. Her father was prosperous and the house was managed with servants. Mamie was the acknowledged beauty in a family of four sisters. Her good looks and high spirits and a natural talent for ragtime piano playing ensured her popularity.

But it wasn't until she was 18 and met a new West Point second lieutenant named Dwight David Eisenhower that she became involved in a serious romance. He was, she said, "the spiffiest-looking man I'd ever talked to in all my born life."

Eight months later, on July 1, 1916, the day Eisenhower was promoted to first lieutenant, they were married in the Doud family home in Denver.

Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower's early memories of married life included a rented room near Camp Meade, now Fort Meade, Md., where a frugal landlady shut off the electricity between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and breakfast came out of a paper bag.They once occupied a fraternity house that had a ballroom but no kitchen or bed. And there was an Army cottage in the steaming Panama jungles, plagued with ants, mosquitoes, snakes and bats.

"Mamie's Dream House" was what they called the Gettsburg farm. And, indeed, it was after a lifetime of having no permanent address and "keeping house in everything but an igloo."

They had chosen the Pennsylvania countryside because the area held many happy memories of their early married life. Gen. Eisenhower's mother was born and grew up in the vicinity. Young Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower had become fond of the people in the area while he was assigned to Camp Colt there in 1918.

Mrs. Eisenhower also cherished a feeling there of closeness of her first son. "We always think of the brief happiness of our beloved child when he played on the green stretches of grass at Gettsburg," she once said.

The boy was Doud Dwight Eisenhower. In 1921, at the age of 3, he died of scarlet fever. Their second son, John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, was born 18 months later. "Smother love" was the way she described her apprehension about him. "It wasn't until Johnny had children of his own that I finally stopped all worry," she once said.

During her White House years, Mrs. Eisenhower frequently entertained her grandchildren.

In her official capacity as the Frist Lady, she displayed a vibrance and vitality that, together with her slim good looks, made her seem much younger and much stronger than she actually was. The president himself finally limited her receiving-line appearances. "She insists on talking to everyone -- it's a strain oh her," he grumbled once after she had just completed meeting 300 women.

Mrs Eisenhower believed in bed rest for women over 50 and this habit undoubtedly aided her endurance during early years in the White House when she would shake hands with hundreds of people a day. One of her favorite relaxations was a card game called Bolivia, a complicated variation of canasta.

After leaving the White House, Mrs Eisenhower from time to time appeared in politics. In 1964, she was honoary chairperson of a group called "One Million Women for Goldwater," which worked in behalf of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), the Republican presidential candidate that year.

During the 1968 campaign she was an ardent supporter of Richard M. Nixon, who had been vice president under Eisenhower. She was honorary head of a women's committee for Nixon and former Gov. Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland, his running mate.

Both she and her husband were delighted when their only grandson, David married the Nixons' younger daughter, Julie.

Mrs Eisenhower and the Nixons became very close after Gen. Eisenhower's death in 1969. Mr. Nixon attended the funeral and gave the eulogy at the Capitol where the body of the former president lay in state.

He quoted Ike's last words to his wife, "I've always loved my wife. I've always loved my children. I've always loved my grandchildren and I've always loved my country."

In 1974, as the Watergate scandal was breaking around the Nixon presidency, Mrs. Eisenhower saw that Patricia Nixon, the president's wife, was growing more and more tense. She wrote a letter to Republicans who had asked her to speak. She declined to make the speech, but she urged Republican women:

"This year, of all years, we must band together for the good of our president and our country."

After Nixon was forced to resign, Mrs. Eisenhower kept in tough by long-distance telephone to San Clementa, Calif. David and Julie Eisenhower visited her frequently at the Gettsbury farm.

On Aug 30, Mrs. Eisenhower taped another interview at the Gettysburg farm with Barbara Walters. It was to have been broadcast Nov. 8 in connection with Mrs. Eisenhower's birthday. Miss Walters asked her how she would like to be remembered.

"I haven't even thought about that," Mrs. Eisenhower said with a chuckle. "Just a good friend."

In addition to her son, of Valley Froge, Pa., Mrs Eisenhower is survived by a sister, Mrs. George Gordon Moore, of Washington, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

-Washington Post, Washington D.C., November 2, 1979


 

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