Other Notable Deaths


July 25, 2006

Reathel Odum, 97, a bank clerk who was chosen by Sen. Harry S. Truman during the Depression to be one of his secretaries and later served in the White House as personal secretary to Bess Truman, has died in her hometown of Benton, Ill.

Miss Odum died June 6, but news of her death was not released for several weeks, said her nephew, Richard Odum Hart.

In 17 years with the Trumans - including two years chaperoning their daughter, Margaret, when she was making tours as an aspiring classical singer - Miss Odum became close to the family.

"People have urged me to write a book and I said no," she said in a 1988 oral history for the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Mo. "I don't know anything that would be tantalizing or gossipy."

If it does not offer significant historical observations, Miss Odum's oral history provides interesting glimpses of President Truman and his family, for example, how much he missed Mrs. Truman when she went home to Independence in the summer. "He'd put his head in the office door and say, `Is there any mail from the Boss? If there isn't, I'm going to fire every one of you,'" Miss Odum recalled. "That was a standing joke."

Miss Odum graduated from Benton Township High School in 1926 and soon got a job at a local bank. One day 10 years later, then-Senator Truman walked into a bank in St. Louis where she was working and told its president, a friend, that he needed a secretary. The bank president recommended Miss Odum. "I was scared to death," she recalled. "I had never talked to a senator before."

Senator Truman became vice president in 1945; less than three months later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was dead. On his first full day as president, President Truman asked Miss Odum to be the first lady's personal secretary.

Unlike Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Truman did not like to speak to reporters. Sometimes a "press girl" would call and ask what Mrs. Truman would be wearing to a reception, Miss Odum said, and the first lady would say, "It's none of their business."

Sister Mary Anna DiGiacomo, 83, one of two nuns who survived a brutal attack by a mentally disturbed intruder on their quiet convent life in Waterville, Maine, a decade ago, died Thursday at a holistic-care community there.

In the course of the January 1996 attack on four sisters of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, Sister Mary Anna "grabbed a shovel and tried to intervene," according to a Bangor Daily News story. She was stabbed and beaten and listed in critical condition at a hospital for a month.

Though she was "strong-willed," Sister Mary Anna never fully recovered from her injuries, which left her right side paralyzed and forced her to use a cane, said Sister Mary Catherine Perko, the convent's mother superior, in a telephone interview. But she never abandoned painting, which had been a huge part of her life. She taught herself to paint with her left hand and continued to turn out religious icons, landscapes and still lifes that engaged many people.

Jessie Mae Hemphill, 71, whose award-winning blues career lasted decades and was heavily influenced by her upbringing in rural Mississippi, died Saturday at a hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

She began playing guitar at age 7 or 8 and later moved on to other instruments. She lived in Memphis for 20 years and played the clubs on the city's famous Beale Street before finding an international audience.

She won the W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Female Blues Artist in 1987 and 1988, and in 1991 won the Handy Award for Best Acoustic Album.

In 1993, after a stroke paralyzed her left side and left her unable to play guitar, she retired from touring and returned to Senatobia, Miss.

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