Alla D. Clary, a Texas farmgirl who became a fixture and something of a celebrity on Capitol Hill as the long-time private secretary to the late House Speaker Sam Rayburn, died May 9 at the Sleepy Hollow Manor Nursing Home in Annandale, Va. She was 87.
Bright-eyed and assertive, Miss Clary was devoted to Speaker Rayburn and the House of Representatives to the point of taking personal offense if she felt they had been insulted.
When a magazine reporter called Rayburn "catankerous and not very handsome" Miss Clary scolded the reporter and told him, "He's not cantankerous and we think he's plum pretty."
"You picked on Sam Rayburn and you got a fight with her. You picked on the House of Representatives and you got a fight awith her," John W. Holton, Rayburn's administrative assistant for many years, recalled in an interview.
Perhaps Miss Clary's first love (she never married) was the Democratic Party. "She was a real yellow-dog Democrat, as we say in Texas," Holton said.
Miss Clary's interest in politics and her outspokenness became evident early in life. She told an interviewer sometime back: "As long as I can remember I have been interested in politics. The first clear recollection I have is when Mr. McKinley was running for office. Anyone who talked against him I was ready to punch in the nose. And I was a strong kid."
Miss Clary, who arranged Speaker Rayburn's appointments and kept a close eye on district matters back home, came to Washington to work for the War Department in 1918 after having taught school for eight years.
It was an unhappy experience for her and a year later she was ready to return home to Texas. She stopped by her congressman's office to say goodbye and it was then that Sam Rayburn offered her a job. She would never return home permanently again, but growing up on a farm had a lsting influence.
"We lived in McKinney, Tex.," she once told a newspaper reporter. "You get a different slant on life if you know wheat from barley at the start."
By 1956 Miss Clary had become such a well known figure in Washington that columnist George Dixon named her among Washington's six "most fascinating women." The others on the list included Jacqueline Onassis and Baroness Silvercruys.
Despite her fame in Washington political circles Miss Clary maintained a "down-home" attitude about life.
When she was asked what she considered her greatest assistance as the personal secretary to one of the most powerful men in the country she replied matter of factly: "Getting new drapes and carpets for his office. It took 35 years, but I got them the other day. Now the place doesn't look so much like a haunted hovel."
Yet long before the advent of protective aides around powerful men, Miss Clary had developed a criterion for determining which strangeers would be allowed to see the Speaker personally.
"If they say right off the bat who they are and what they want, then they're usually all right, but if they hem and haw and beat around the bush, likely as not they're going to ask for something out of line," she said.
Miss Clary loved to travel and did so frequently both in this country and overseas. In 1960 she went on an around-the-world cruise that included a stop in China.
Surviving is a sister, Kate Clary Bates of Prosper, Tex.