Kathryn Smith, Author of The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency

00_AT VERY TOP Cropped KKathryn Smith, journalist, community activist / co-founder of the Cancer Association of Anderson in South Carolina and now Missy LeHand biographer with The Gatekeeper:  Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency  (publisher Touchstone Books a division of Simon & Schuster, September 2016) is a delight to talk to, listen to her slow jazz Southern drawl and explore what inspires her.

And so we began to talk while driving on narrow country roads, on a clear and balmy day in November; I discovered Kathryn’s inspiration.

Our conversation follows.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: The purpose of StudioSeeds.com and @StudioSeeds on Twitter is to explore inspiration in people who inspire.

What inspires you?

KATHRYN SMITH: History inspires me and it always has every since I was a little kid. And it’s funny, you know, I find these threads that I’ve followed since I was an early teen. I’ve always been interested in the Tudors and Henry VIII; since my early 30s, it’s been the Pre-Raphaelites and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I’ve been interested in Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the 1920s since I was in high school and I continue to be.

There was something FDR biographer Geoffrey Ward said about history being a moving river, things keep being uncovered from the river — dredged out of the river — history changes even though it’s history. So I guess I just really enjoy when there is some new fact or some new person — that’s my inspiration.

01_Missy Portrait Sq

Marguerite (Missy) LeHand

I’m dredging a body out of the river myself with Missy because she has been ignored, misunderstood, mischaracterized and really just forgotten; thanks to her great-nieces who have an incredible archive of her life, and my own digging, luck and connections, I feel like I’ve fleshed her out, though she is still mysterious, an enigma even to me.

01_LeHand with FDRMissy with FDR at his desk in the White House.

And Paris totally inspires. I am completely obsessed with Paris and the history of Paris, the hidden history of Paris, the catacombs under Paris. How those thousands and thousands of bodies ended up in the catacombs under the streets of Paris. It is really a violent city and tragic in so many ways and there is all that beauty on top of all that sad and violent history.

I get to Paris as often as I can — fairly often — I counted seven times in the last ten years. My mother always says: “you’re going to Paris again? Why don’t you go somewhere else?” But I don’t want to go anywhere else. It’s just because every time I go to Paris, I go to the old places I’ve been before, but I always find something new and it’s at least thousand year old city and there is something new every time I go. Plus it’s a modern, thriving City — with art, theatre, fashion — everything is changing and evolving, so it’s not like a museum.

Oscar'stomb-2 copy

Photo by Kathryn Smith of Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Paris:
“We will never forget the importance of being earnest” is written in white. 

My love for Little Red Riding Hood started when I took a snapshot of my daughter Elizabeth in a red hoodie when she was about three. She was peeping out with a sort of wary look that made me think of Little Red and the wolf. As a result, I made a series of quilts on this theme, including one I turned into a book; I have collected dozens of versions of the book, from old vintage ones to modern incarnations to foreign editions in French, Japanese, and Czech, among other languages.

03_RRHood Cover

Kathryn’s Red Riding Hood quilt on the cover of her book.

03_Red and Wolf

Kathryn as Little Red, partying with the wolf.

I also love making things. I’ve always worked with textiles since I was a really small child. My mother actually still has the first quilt I made. It’s about the size of an egg I guess, and it was made of little scraps of felt from some Christmas ornaments she was making in the 1960s; I sewed them together all these little scraps and I made this little quilt. She has it in a frame: “Kathryn’s First Quilt”. (chuckling)

So I still love quilting. I especially love to find old quilts that need help or have never been finished. To find a quilt-top that’s never been quilted, to repair it and to make it useful is a favorite thing to do.

04_K with GGM restored Quilt

Photo: Kathryn and her restored quilt; it was her great grandmother’s. 

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Threads! Threads inspire Kathryn Smith. The threads of history, Paris, Little Red Riding Hood and fabric — they all inspire her.

And Kathryn Smith inspires!

Thank you Kathryn.

Please connect with Kathryn Smith in the COMMENTS section for this post.

05_K typewriter etc.

A writer’s still life. Here is a corner of inspiration in Kathryn’s library.
From the left, clockwise: typewriter that belonged to a foreign correspondent in Japan; photograph of Missy & FDR; popular bust of FDR; a beer-opener donkey from FDR’s first presidential campaign in 1932;  Missy LeHand’s donkey from her White House desk.

04_K as Missy_Friend as ER

On the right: Kathryn Smith is dressed as Missy LeHand at a costume fundraiser for the Cancer Association of Anderson she co-founded. On the left is her friend dressed as Eleanor Roosevelt with a faux-fox-fur Kathryn made.

Join Kathryn on Facebook and on her website KathrynSmithWords.com.

The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency
The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency by Kathryn Smith

Read an excerpt from the Gatekeeper on Politico.com by Kathryn Smith, published August 28, 2016:

FDR’s Secretary’s Secret Hand in the New Deal

The most powerful presidential secretary in history, Missy LeHand made key introductions, advocated for legislation—and cemented Roosevelt’s biggest legacy.

Read on Politico and follow @politico on Twitter | Politico on Facebook

Missy
FDR’s Secretary’s Secret Hand in the New Deal The most powerful presidential secretary in history, Missy LeHand made key introductions, advocated for legislation—and cemented Roosevelt’s biggest legacy. By Kathryn Smith, August 28, 2016

Join Kathryn on Facebook. Launching soon: KathrynSmithWords.com.
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Connect with Suze Bienaimee: StudioSeeds, ArtNow.org or SuzeBienaimee.com

Kathryn Smith, Author of The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency StudioSeeds Inspire By Suze Bienaimee

22 thoughts on “Kathryn Smith, Author of The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency”

  1. Fabulous conversation! Kathryn Smith, you are inspiring! I can’t wait to read The Gatekeeper about Missy LeHand.

      1. I just finished The Gatekeeper and was richly rewarded for reading it. What a story! What a well-researched splendidly written story! Where have you been all my life, Missy LeHand? And Kathryn Smith please do an encore performance. I rarely read woman authors but when my wife picked The Gatekeeper for me, I was immediately intrigued. A great credit to journalism and biographical writing that most will find fascinating, The Gatekeeper.

        1. Thanks so much, Daniel! I would be so grateful if you would copy and paste your review into the amazon.com page on “The Gatekeeper.” And, yes, I am researching another fascinating woman for my next book!

  2. I love the creative costumed looks! Gives me a great idea for dressing up. Also agree with you about re-visiting a European city many times. I have had that experience with Vienna, Austria, and Zurich, Switzerland. Re-visiting cities is like chumming up with old friends.
    –Theresa Xia Michna

    1. Thanks, Theresa. You just dig deeper and deeper every time you visit a city again. I always like re-visiting an old haunt, but every time I find something new and spectacular I never knew existed.

    1. I am so glad you liked the article and the book. Please visit the Missy LeHand Facebook page for more about Missy’s life and times.

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