Helen Gandy : biography
Helen W. Gandy (April 8, 1897 – July 7, 1988) was an American civil servant. She was the secretary to Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover for fifty-four years. Hoover called her "indispensable" and she exercised great behind-the-scenes influence on Hoover and the workings of the Bureau. Following Hoover’s death in 1972, she spent weeks destroying his "Personal File," thought to be where the most incriminating material he used to manipulate and control the most powerful figures in Washington was kept.
Later years and death
While she officially retired the day Hoover died, she spent the next few weeks destroying his papers and Hoover left her $5,000 in his will. In 1961, she and her sister, Lucy G. Rodman, donated a portrait of their mother by Thomas Eakins to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gandy lived in Washington, D.C., until 1986, when she moved to DeLand, Florida, in Volusia County where a niece lived.
An avid trout fisherman,"Helen W. Gandy, FBI Secretary." The Washington Post. July 13, 1988. C8. she died of a heart attack on July 7, 1988, either in DeLand (says her New York Times obituary) or in nearby Orange City, Florida (says her Post obituary).
In popular culture
Gandy was portrayed by actresses Lee Kessler in the 1987 television film J. Edgar Hoover, and Naomi Watts in the 2011 cinematic release J. Edgar.
Gandy briefly worked in a department store in Washington before she found a job as a file clerk at the Justice Department in 1918. Within weeks, she went to work as a typist for Hoover, effective March 25, 1918, having told Hoover in her interview she had "no immediate plans to marry." She, like Hoover, would never marry, both being completely devoted to the Bureau.
[[J. Edgar Hoover, director of the F.B.I, photographed in 1961. Gandy worked for him from 1921 to his death in 1972.]]
When Hoover went to the Bureau of Investigation (as it was then known) as its assistant director on August 22, 1921, he specifically requested Gandy return from vacation to help him in the new post. Hoover became director of the Bureau in 1924 and Gandy continued in his service. She was promoted to "office assistant" on August 23, 1937, and "executive assistant" on October 1, 1939. Though she would receive promotions in her civil service grade subsequently, she would retain her title as executive assistant to her retirement on May 2, 1972, the day Hoover died. Hoover said of her "if there is anyone in this Bureau whose services are indispensable I consider Miss Gandy to be that person." Despite this, Curt Gentry wrote:
Theirs was a rigidly formal relationship. He’d always called her ‘Miss Gandy’ (when angry, barking it out as one word). In all those fifty-four years he had never once called her by her first name.
Hoover biographers Theoharis and Cox would say "her stern face recalled Cerberus at the gate," a view echoed by Anthony Summers in his life of Hoover, who also pictured Gandy as Hoover’s first line of defense against the outside world.Anthony Summers. Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993. ISBN 0-399-13800-5 When Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Hoover’s nominal boss, had a direct telephone line installed between their offices, Hoover refused to answer the phone. "Put that damn thing on Miss Gandy’s desk where it belongs," Hoover would declare.
Curt Gentry would describe her influence:
Her genteel manner and pleasant voice contrasted sharply with this domineering presence. Yet behind the politeness was a resolute firmness not unlike his, and no small amount of influence. Many a career in the Bureau had been quietly manipulated by her. Even those who disliked him, praised her, most often commenting on her remarkable ability to get along with all kinds of people. That she had held her position for fifty-four years was the best evidence of this, for it was a Bureau tradition that the closer you were to him, the more demanding he was.