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Wilson Roosevelt Jerman — who worked in the White House as a cleaner, butler, and maître d' for 11 US presidents over more than half a century — died Saturday from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, his family said.
Jerman was 91, his granddaughter Shanta Taylor Gay said in a Facebook post.
"My grandfather is a family-loving, genuine man," Jamila Garrett, another granddaughter, told Fox 5 in DC. "He was always about service, service to others. It doesn't matter who you were or what you did or what you needed."
Jerman last worked in the White House for President Barack Obama and his family, who honored him with a plaque and 11 coins, each representing every US president he worked with.
"With his kindness and care, Wilson Jerman helped make the White House a home for decades for First Families, including ours," former first lady Michelle Obama said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "His service to others—his willingness to go above and beyond for the country he loved and all those whose lives he touched—is a legacy worthy of his generous spirit. We were lucky to have known him. Barack and I send our sincerest love and prayers to his family."
Jerman began working at the White House in 1957 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a cleaner, then was promoted to butler under President John F. Kennedy.
Garrett told Fox 5 her grandfather was promoted in part thanks to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
According to the White House Historical Association, Jerman worked full-time in the White House from 1957 to 1993.
He worked part-time beginning in 2003 and left the White House in 2012 under President Barack Obama.
Director Lee Daniels made a 2013 film, The Butler, about Eugene Allen, who also began working in the White House in 1952 and served under multiple presidents.
During his career, Garrett said he fostered relationships with the families of past presidents, particularly the Kennedys, the Bushes (during the administrations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), and the Obamas.
A 2009 photo of the Obamas inside an elevator being operated by Jerman was included in Michelle Obama's book, Becoming.
His granddaughter Shanta Taylor Gay told CNN her grandfather had a stroke in 2011, and the Obamas looked after his well-being and sent flowers.
Garrett said despite working for US presidents, her grandfather's focus was service for others.
"I want the world to remember my grandfather as someone who was really authentic, always being yourself," Garrett said. "That's what he taught our family."