Gladys Kneff, Mistress to Secretaries of Commerce, Dead at 90

ARLINGTON, Virginia. Gladys Kneff, who rose from a lowly position in a secretarial pool to become the secret lover of a succession of U.S. Secretaries of Commerce, died here yesterday after a brief illness. She was 90.

Gladys, in her salad days.


“I saw what I wanted and I took it,” she recalled in an unfinished autobiography she was working on at the time of her death. “What I wanted was Charles Sawyer, twelfth Secretary of Commerce, and I wasn’t going to let piddling things like his wife and children get in my way.”

Charles Sawyer: Simply irresistible.


Sawyer repaid Kneff for her favors by designating June 1–7th as the inaugural National Secretaries Week, and Wednesday, June 4, 1952, as the first National Secretaries Day. “My wife balances our checking account so I can’t buy you anything,” Kneff said he told her at the time. “But here’s a nifty holiday that bosses will be forgetting about for many years to come–I hope you enjoy it.”

Kreps: “Maybe I came on too strong . . .”


From that initial seductive success, Kneff bounced from bed to bed with each new Secretary of the Department, pausing only to hop over female appointees. “I don’t swing that way,” she reportedly told Juanita Kreps, who importuned her one night at a Georgetown cocktail party with a coquettish look, saying “Is it my turn now?”

Ross: “You want to what with me?”


Kneff had been in failing health, but the immediate cause of death was reported to be a broken heart when she was turned down by Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce in the Trump administration and former People Magazine “Sexiest Man Alive,” who demurred, saying the age difference between the two was too great. “She was 8 years older than me,” Ross said to a reporter who button-holed him in front of the Department’s offices on Constitution Avenue. “What would we have to talk about–the Spanish-American War?”

Ms. Kneff is survived by her cat, Pookie, and three spider plants. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the National Stenographers Hall of Fame in Chillicothe, Missouri.

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Fauxbituaries.”

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