Roma L. Klar, secretary in White House, dies

Roma L. Klar, a former secretary who worked in the White House during the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman and ended her career with the Peace Corps, died Friday of heart failure at Brightview Assisted-Living in Catonsville.

She was 98.

Roma Lee Simmers, the daughter of farmers, was born and raised in Nowata, Okla., where she graduated in 1928 from Copan High School.

After graduating in 1930 from Chillicothe Business College in Chillicothe, Mo., Mrs. Klar moved to Washington and went to work as a secretary for the federal government.

It was a temporary, three-month job assignment in 1933 helping answer Eleanor Roosevelt's mail that took Mrs. Klar to the White House.

"She wound up staying for 20 years, until the Eisenhower administration," said her daughter, Roberta Klar Lavin of Catonsville.

Mrs. Klar was a White House secretary during the presidential tenure of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman.

When Mr. Truman ran for president in 1948, Mrs. Klar often accompanied him aboard his campaign train as it crisscrossed the nation, her daughter said.

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower let go White House staffers, Mrs. Klar went to work for the National Security Council. She joined the newly created Peace Corps after President John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960.

She was a secretary to R. Sargent Shriver, who was Peace Corps director, and Bill Moyers, associate director, her daughter said.

Mrs. Klar retired in 1967.

Mrs. Klar was described by her daughter as a "very modest person," who replied when asked about her White House years, "It's just a job. I got up and went to work like everybody else."

Mrs. Lavin said that her mother was "very loyal, devoted and conscientious in her work, and did not engage in telling tall tales."

"She had been interviewed by Maryland Public Television about her White House years," her daughter said.

The former Arlington, Va., resident moved to the Charlestown retirement community in 1989, where she headed the chapel committee. Since 2006, she lived at Brightview.

Her husband of 50 years, John F. Klar, a transportation economist with the U.S. Commerce Department, died in 1982.

"She was an avid bridge player, but had an insatiable appetite for politics," her daughter said. "She never missed a State of the Union address or an opportunity to voice her opinion on current affairs."

A memorial gathering will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rolling Road Golf Club, 814 Hilltop Road, Catonsville.

Also surviving are five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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