Traditionally, the role of valet has been to maintain “his man’s” wardrobe and help him present a well-groomed personal appearance. Throughout American history, however, the role of valet to the President has been much more complex. Although each relationship has been unique in its own ways, presidential valets have served as butlers and meal servers, couriers, and close personal confidants as well as overseeing and helping select their president’s daily attire.
In the case of Arthur Prettyman, serving as valet to President Franklin D. Roosevelt was even more challenging.
TIMELESS DINNER PLATE FROM THE FRANKLIN AND ELEANOR ROOSEVELT FEATURES MOTIFS BORROWED FROM THE HISTORIC ROOSEVELT FAMILY COAT OF ARMS - MANUFACTURED BY LENOX - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
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Like so many presidential valets before him, Arthur Prettyman was a veteran of the US military. He retired from the Navy as a chief petty officer. He came on board as FDR’s personal valet in 1939, after Roosevelt’s long-time valet Irwin MacDuffie was fired, allegedly for drinking on the job instead of attending to his duties.
Franklin D. Roosevelt had contracted polio in 1921, when he was just 39 years old. The disease left his legs virtually paralyzed and forced him to wear heavy leg braces that locked at the knee. He was unable to don the braces himself, and even while wearing them, Roosevelt could barely walk with the aid of crutches. Often he used a wheelchair instead. So it became Arthur Prettyman’s job as valet to assist the president not only in wardrobe selection, but by strapping on the leg braces and dressing him. He also helped FDR into his wheelchair and lifted him from the wheelchair to his bed.
Their relationship had a humorous side too. Evidently, Arthur Prettyman was aptly named -- said to have had a radiant smile. FDR often referred to him as a “lady killer.”
Due to the nature of their job, presidential valets have always been privy to the behind-the-scenes workings of the White House as well as the president’s daily schedule. Aware of FDR’s many important meetings, where discussion often included disagreement, Arthur Prettyman was known to reply to the President, “One does not refute the chief executive.”
As valet, Prettyman’s primary responsibility was to pick out the President’s attire for the day – his suit and which tie to wear with it. Usually FDR left those decisions to his valet, but there were times when Roosevelt voiced his own preference. On those occasions, Prettyman always deferred, because “one does not refute the chief executive,” not even in matters of personal attire.
HISTORIC BEAVER FORMAL TOP HAT WORN BY F.D.R. AT HIS FIRST INAUGURATION ON MARCH 4, 1933 - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
Because his physical impairment required an assistant to be present at night as well as during the day, Franklin D. Roosevelt had more valets than any other president -- a total of five (because it took two at at time from 1938-1945) during his tenure in the White House. But Arthur Prettyman became the most well-known.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945. It came as a shock to the American public, from whom FDR’s chronic and deteriorating health problems had been carefully hidden for years. The President had traveled to the “Little White House,” his cottage near Warm Springs, Georgia. Naturally, his entourage included his trusted valet, Arthur Prettyman.
A SADDENED ARTHUR PRETTYMAN WALKS FDR'S DOG, FALA, IN ATLANTA WHEN THE TRAIN BEARING FDR'S REMAINS MAKES A STOP ENROUTE TO WASHINGTON, D.C.
One of the most touching moments that indelibly associates Arthur Prettyman with FDR’s passing is memorialized in a famous photograph. In it, a very sad Prettyman is seen walking Roosevelt’s beloved Scottish terrier, Fala, during a stop in Atlanta as the train carrying the President’s body headed back to Washington, DC.
And so, Arthur Prettyman became Franklin D. Roosevelt’s final and most famous valet, due his grand personality and to circumstances of fate.
World renowned collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx has acquired a remarkable number of scarce or rare pieces of official White House China. Mr. Amyx’s passion for American historical artifacts has been his sole focus for more than 35 years. Mr. Amyx's collection is the largest privately-owned collection of extremely high-quality, as well as the rarest, Official White House China and Presidential China in the world. If you would like to engage in a discussion with Mr. Amyx about White House China, please contact him through the button below.