This post was written by Father Michael P. Morris, Director, Archives of the Archdiocese of New York.
Three days ago, April 12, 2016, marked the seventy-first anniversary of the death of President Franklin Roosevelt at the “Little White House,” Warm Springs, Georgia. Among his staff that accompanied President Roosevelt to his salubrious retreat in the wake of the grueling Yalta Conference was his private secretary, Grace Tully (1900–1984). Although Miss Tully was not present at the moment when Roosevelt was felled by the fatal cerebral hemorrhage, she was one of the first to be summoned to the side of the dying president.
Grace Tully was born in Bayonne, New Jersey in 1900, attended a series of parochial schools in New Jersey and New York, and graduated from the Grace Business Institute in New York City. In 1918, she assumed the role of private secretary to then-Archbishop Patrick Hayes of New York. She later went on to work for Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York, First Lady of New York State Eleanor Roosevelt, and in 1933, moved to Washington to serve as an assistant to the newly elected President Roosevelt’s private secretary, Marguerite “Missy” Le Hand. In 1941, Le Hand (a Catholic) was stricken with a debilitating stroke and Miss Tully assumed Le Hand’s role as private secretary.
Grace Tully, along with Major General Edwin “Pa” Watson (see “Franklin Roosevelt – Catholic Evangelist?”), presidential assistant and troubleshooter Harry Hopkins, FDR’s distant cousin Margaret Suckley, and at times the exiled Crown Princess Martha of Norway formed FDR’s intimate circle, sharing the nightly pre-prandial martini-fueled “children’s hour,” trips to Springwood at Hyde Park, Warm Springs, Key West, and the Pacific. After Roosevelt’s death, Tully remained active in Democrat Party governance and was an executive assistant to the United States Senate Democratic Policy Committee under then Democrat majority leader of the Senate, Lyndon B. Johnson, of Texas, and later Senator Mike Mansfield (a Catholic) of Montana.
Grace Tully’s brother, Monsignor James F. Tully, was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. Senior to his sister Grace by two years, the future-Monsignor Tully attended Providence College and Saint Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, and upon ordination on May 25, 1929, the newly-ordained Father Tully was sent by Cardinal Hayes as a parochial vicar at Saint Ann’s Church, New York City. His first pastorate at Saint Mary’s Washingtonville, New York, in 1957 was followed by his assignment to Saint Joachim’s Parish, Beacon, New York (interesting, one of the founders of Saint Joachim’s Parish was the Forrestal family, one of whose son, James Forrestal became President Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Navy in 1944 and in the Truman Administration, the first Secretary of Defense in 1947). In 1964, Msgr. Tully was named pastor of Saint Monica’s Church in Manhattan, where he served until retirement in May of 1969.
The Archives of the Archdiocese of New York has yielded a poignant hand-written letter, dated May 27, 1970, written by Msgr. Tully to the Archbishop of New York, Terence Cardinal Cooke:
Since my retirement in February 1969, I have been living in Jackson Heights, New York. Recently, I was able to sublet my pleasant apartment. I leave June 5th and will take up temporary residence with my sister Grace at 3000 Connecticut Avenue (N.W.), Washington, D.C.
Msgr. Tully died on September 4, 1970—less than four months after penning his letter to Cardinal Cooke. In a September 5, 1970 memorandum to Cardinal Cooke from Msgr. Lawrence (later Bishop) Kenney, the secretary to the Cardinal wrote: “The next of kin are three sisters all of Washington D.C. Miss Grace Tully has been caring for the funeral arrangements.”
For an interesting photograph of Grace Tully with President Franklin Roosevelt, please click here.