Gloria Sitrin, secretary for Kennedy’s presidential aide, dies at 81

June 7, 2011

Gloria Sitrin, a former secretary for John F. Kennedy’s presidential aide and speechwriter Theodore Sorensen, and who typed Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, died May 3 at Inova Alexandria Hospital during open-heart surgery. She was 81.

Earlier this year, Mrs. Sitrin attended a reunion of 15 former Kennedy staffers to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his inauguration at a local steakhouse. Adam Frankel, a speechwriter to President Obama who helped Sorensen write his 2008 memoir, “Counselor,” took notice and invited Mrs. Sitrin and her husband, David, to lunch at the White House.

Frankel later wrote in the New Yorker magazine about their meeting. He told of how she brought folders filled with Kennedy mementos that had been stashed in her garage for half a century.

“The second folder contained six yellowing sheets of typescript,” he wrote, “held together by a rusted staple, and covered with Sorensen’s unmistakable handwriting. . . . It appeared to be the earliest surviving draft of Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, a speech that inspired generations to take up public service and that set the standard for every inaugural since.”

After asking if he could copy the document, Frankel stopped at the Oval Office to show it to Obama. The president, excited about the find, came down to meet Mrs. Sitrin.

Gloria Sitrin greets President John F. Kennedy. (FAMILY PHOTO)

“This is somebody who happened to be hired by Sorensen right at the beginning and ended up being really instrumental in helping that office function all those years,” Frankel said in an interview. “She was one of the few people who traveled the country with the president and one of the two White House secretaries who was truly in the loop during the Cuban Missile Crisis. She was a right-hand woman to the president’s men.”

Mrs. Sitrin moved to the D.C. area in the early 1950s to work as a secretary at the Pentagon. She was hired by Sorensen, then a legislative assistant to then-Sen. Kennedy, in 1953.

The Sitrins met at an Arlington cocktail party in 1958, where they bonded over their mutual admiration for the young Democratic senator from Massachusetts.

“Before I left, Gloria told me that if I wanted her information I could look her up in ‘Profiles in Courage,’ ” said David Sitrin, referring to Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book. “Sure enough, there she was in the preface for taking dictation.”

It was the only time she bragged about her job, he said, but it worked. They married six months later.

When Kennedy entered the White House in 1961, Sorensen became his chief speechwriter and Mrs. Sitrin followed as Sorensen’s secretary. She was his longest serving associate.

After Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Mrs. Sitrin helped Sorensen prepare his 1965 bestseller, “Kennedy.”

In the late 1970s, she returned to work as a secretary for the Extended Learning Institute at Northern Virginia Community College before becoming a part-time secretary at Beth El Hebrew Congregation, a reform synagogue in Alexandria. She retired in 1997.

Gloria Ruth Liftman was born Dec. 10, 1929, in Lynn, Mass., and grew up in the Boston suburb of Chelsea. As a young woman, she studied piano at a music school in Boston.

Besides her husband of 53 years, David Sitrin of Springfield, survivors include two sons, Elliot Sitrin of Alexandria and Joel Sitrin of Annandale; two brothers; and three grandchildren.

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