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Catherine Mallardi, 86

Catherine Mallardi, 86; effective secretary to four Fed chairmen

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By T. Rees Shapiro
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Catherine Mallardi, 86, who was a secretary to four Federal Reserve Board chairmen and whose Rolodex of Washington contacts was said to be worth its weight in gold, died Nov. 22 at Inova Fairfax Hospital of complications from pneumonia.

To the chairmen she served -- Arthur Burns, G. William Miller, Paul A. Volcker and Alan Greenspan -- Mrs. Mallardi was said to have been an indispensable asset who knew how to maneuver discreetly through Washington's bureaucratic maze.

"Catherine's Rolodex is worth close to or more than that of most presidents," Richard F. Syron, a former president of the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, told The Washington Post in a 1992 retirement profile on Mrs. Mallardi.

A disarming gatekeeper to office visitors, Mrs. Mallardi was known around the halls of the Federal Reserve as a mother hen. Volcker, currently chairman of President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, said Mrs. Mallardi knew exactly how to navigate the political landscape: with a smile.

"She was a person who was just so friendly and she used to amaze me," Volcker told The Post in 1992. "She would call somebody up, and for almost anyone in Washington, she knew their secretary. And she would say, 'Hi, it's Catherine.' She might not have spoken to them for years, but she assumed they knew who she was."

Catherine Connors was born July 17, 1923, to a coal mining family in Girardville, Pa. Her family said she was one of the fastest typists in her high school class, so she decided to find work as an administrative assistant.

Mrs. Mallardi moved to Washington in 1942 as part of a corps of young adults, mostly women, who found work as federal civil servants during World War II. Following her lead, Mrs. Mallardi's sisters came, too.

Her first job in the Washington area was at the Navy Department's hydrolographic center in Suitland.

In 1953, she found a job in the White House working for President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisers. It was there she met Burns, who became the Federal Reserve chairman under President Richard M. Nixon. In 1970, Burns persuaded her to work as his secretary at the Federal Reserve, and she stayed on to work for his three successors.

"The vast majority of calls I get, I assume I never hear about," Greenspan told The Post in 1992. "Her job as she sees it, is to divert the problems from my shoulders. A goodly part of that I never observe."

Mrs. Mallardi was a Burke resident. Her husband of 56 years, Thomas J. Mallardi, died in August.

Survivors include her daughter, Diane Bettge of Fairfax County; three sisters, Eleanor Connors of Washington, Mary Marziani of Bowie and Nancy Halbe of Seabrook; and three grandchildren.

In her spare time, Mrs. Mallardi volunteered in the lunch room of St. Ambrose Catholic School, in Annandale, where she'd sell ice cream to the children. Her family said when a student couldn't afford a cone, she'd pay for it.

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