“I felt an obligation to be there with her,” recalled Grimes, 67, of Great Falls. “I can’t imagine not doing it. I was the one Jeanne would accept. I owed it to her as a friend.”
Even before they helped identify the CIA officer-turned-Soviet-spy in the early 1990s, Vertefeuille (pronounced VER-teh-fay) and Grimes forged a bond.
They met at the male-dominated agency, where Vertefeuille began her career as a typist in 1954 and rose to become a counterintelligence expert and, in the words of Acting Director Michael J. Morell, “a true CIA icon.” Grimes joined the agency right out of college 13 years later, and the two women became close as they investigated the disappearance of at least eight Soviet assets in the 1980s. It was a hunt that led to Ames, who was convicted of espionage in 1994.
So when Vertefeuille’s cancer was diagnosed last summer — just as she and Grimes were finishing a memoir about the Ames case called “Circle of Treason” — Grimes became her caregiver. By the fall, Grimes moved the intensely private Vertefeuille, who never married or had kids and was working as a CIA contractor before her illness, into a nursing home.
For the next three months, until Vertefeuille died Dec. 29, Grimes visited her daily at the Cameron Glen Health and Rehab Center in Reston. She brought the mail from Vertefeuille’s McLean apartment, down the street from the CIA, where Vertefeuille mentored female officers and passed along “her tremendous knowledge to current and future counterintelligence officers until the very last day she was in the office,” said Jennifer Youngblood, an agency spokeswoman.
Grimes delivered cards from CIA colleagues and read them aloud to Vertefeuille.
“Dearest Jeanne,” one woman wrote, “You have always been my most admired role model ever since I learned of your professional prowess. I know I join a very large group of your colleagues and friends who miss you greatly and are praying for your return to health AND MOST likely for your return to the office!!!”
The celebrated intelligence officer — known for wearing sneakers and turtlenecks to the office — simply listened and said little in response, Grimes said.
“There was one letter from someone whose name I can’t mention. He’s at the agency. He sent a note. It was beautifully written,” Grimes recalled. “I said to Jeanne: ‘That’s very special. He must have thought highly of you.’ And Jeanne said, ‘He had been good to me.’ ”