Musician, CIA Worker Gloria Saunders Overall

Gloria Saunders Overall, a self-taught musician, was once asked to perform an accordion solo by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Gloria Saunders Overall, a self-taught musician, was once asked to perform an accordion solo by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Family Photo)
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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 1, 2008

Gloria Saunders Overall, 86, a retired CIA secretary who once performed an accordion solo for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, died Oct. 20 of organ failure at a hospice in Atlanta. She was a former Vienna resident.

Mrs. Overall, a cousin of "Gone With the Wind" author Margaret Mitchell, was born in Atlanta. Her mother was a publicist for actress Gloria Swanson, and Mrs. Overall was named for the Hollywood star. She attended the University of Alabama, where she was a cheerleader.

A musician who learned to play by ear, she mastered the accordion, xylophone and piano and was a member of an all-girls marching band in the late 1930s. During a performance by the band at Warm Springs, Ga., Roosevelt asked her to perform a solo.

"I was totally taken off guard," she told her son recently. "My head was in a swirl. Then I remembered his favorite tune and stood proudly next to him and played 'Home on the Range' on my accordion."

As a young woman, she also volunteered for the elderly and was known for lugging her 30-pound instrument to area nursing homes. She often performed for aged Civil War veterans -- Confederates all -- and would end her performance with a spirited accordion rendition of "Dixie."

"That really put life back into them," she recalled to her son. "They would stand up and salute. Some would even do their best to give a rebel yell."

During World War II, she was a civilian employee at Fort McPherson, Ga. She later worked as a secretary in the geology department of Emory University and for the Centers for Disease Control, both in Atlanta.

She moved to the Washington area in 1975 and took a secretarial position with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, and then with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Working out of a nondescript building in Northern Virginia, her CIA duties included checking postal boxes in the Washington area for mail from agents and Soviet defectors. She divulged the information about her duties to family members after her retirement in 1990.

While living in Vienna, she was a member of Oakton United Methodist Church and was a volunteer with bone marrow and organ donation efforts.

Her marriage to Ray Saunders ended in divorce. A son from that marriage, Richard Saunders, died in 1983.

In 2000, she married Milton Thomas Overall, whom she met while attending a dance class at a Life Enrichment course. Besides her husband, of Atlanta, survivors include three children from her first marriage, Suzanne Warenzak of Conyers, Ga., Mark Saunders of Waldorf and Brian Saunders of Sugar Hill, Ga.; two stepchildren, Marilyn Gibbs and Kathy Bridgers, both of Atlanta; and eight grandchildren.

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