And after his May 16 death from Covid-19, former first lady Michelle Obama sent condolences.
Jerman, a longtime butler at the White House, was a man who left an impression, his family said.
“With his kindness and care, Wilson Jerman has helped make the White House a home for decades of First Families, including our own,” said Obama on Thursday. “We were lucky to know him. Barack and I send our sincere love and prayers to his family. “
Jerman, 91, died at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center in Woodbridge, his family said. He had served presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama.
One of a farmer’s four children, Jerman grew up so poor in rural Seaboard, North Carolina, that he had to put cardboard in his shoes when they were exhausted. He left school after the seventh grade to help his family.
But with diligence, discretion and grace, he stood up to spend a large part of his life as a witness to history at the center of power in Washington.
He and Gladys married in Emporia, Virginia in 1952. The two were 20 years old. He eventually went to Washington and found work for families in Georgetown, said granddaughter Jamila Garrett.
He brought his family to Washington and settled in a house on Sherman Circle in Petworth, where he lived for most of his life. He often traveled seven miles away for his catering jobs in Georgetown, said his granddaughter.
Then in 1957, his best friend, Eugene Allen, who worked as a butler in the White House, asked him if he would like a job there. “Oh, I don’t know if I want to do this,” he replied, according to his granddaughter. But he decided to try it.
Eisenhower was in his second term as president. Jerman started working as a cleaner.
When the Kennedy Administration began, Jerman caught the eye of the first lady, who loved him and promoted him to the post of butler. “She trusted him with her kids,” said Garrett.
“He always talked about the importance of service,” she said. “The Kennedys, he loved them. “
When the president was assassinated in 1963, he went to one of the rooms in the White House and cried.
“He felt like he had lost a family member,” said his granddaughter.
But it was when Johnson took office that a special bond was established.
Jerman has often told how he made a mistake when setting the table for an important White House dinner. He put a fork instead of a tablespoon at the president’s house, said Garrett.
Johnson said he couldn’t eat soup with a fork and asked who placed the wrong cookware. Jerman thought he was going to be fired, but stepped forward, confessed and apologized.
Johnson was impressed. He brought Jerman to the table, introduced him to the guests and said, “He’s in charge now,” said Garrett.
When Jerman’s wife was terminally ill, Johnson sent him food and doctors. His wife was only in her thirties. They had five children and had been married for 14 years.
Jerman then remarried, said Garrett. His second wife, Helen, died in the 1990s.
“I’ve never heard him complain,” said Garrett. ” Never again. He would leave work, he would be so tired. Sometimes he would go home, sleep for a few hours, and return to work. “
Another granddaughter, Shani Rivas, said, “He praised everyone in the White House. He never talked about their political parties. He always said how nice they were. “
In addition to his children, he had 12 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
His granddaughters said he was a loving and generous man, and he also repaired cars and roofs.
And he insisted on appropriate table settings.