The 1940s were a tumultuous time on both sides of the ocean. Nobody knew who to trust and both sides of the war were looking for allies they could confide in. During this time General Dwight D. Eisenhower, more commonly known as Ike, was rumoured to have found his calm centre in his chauffeur turned secretary, Irishwoman Kay Summersby.
Kay was née Kathleen Helen MacCarthy-Morrogh in Ballydehob, County Cork, Ireland in 1908. Her father was a black Irish retired Lieutenant Colonel and her mother was English. In her 20s she moved to London and worked on movie sets and as a fashion model. At 28 she married British Army officer Gordon Thomas Summersby, divorcing him within a few years, but keeping his name for life. When Britain joined WWII in 1939, Kay joined too. She enlisted herself in the Mechanised Transport Corps and quickly became known as a reliable driver after successfully navigating the London streets during the blackouts of the London Blitz in 1940 & 1941.
When Ike arrived in London in 1942 Kay was assigned to be his driver. They worked closely together until 1945 when the war was over and he dismissed her from his staff by letter. “I am terribly distressed, first because it has become impossible longer to keep you as a member of my personal official family. . . .” he wrote. Kay won multiple awards for her bravery and service in the British army and married stockbroker Reginald H. Morgan in 1952 for a short time.
So why the rumours that they were lovers? Why would a powerful man working side by side with a smart and independent woman lead to these malicious tales? If Ike had never become president would their “affair” have stayed under wraps forever?
One major piece of evidence of their romantic connection was the record of their written correspondence, one letter in particular stands out from the bunch. He wrote “Irish– How about lunch, tea & dinner today? If yes: Who else do you want, if any? At which time? How are you? D.” Her post-mortem memoirs state that she kept this note intact in her personal belongings for her whole life, it was later auctioned off by Sotheby’s in the 1990s. Another big piece of evidence was a statement by Truman claiming that in 1945 Eisenhower asked him and General Marshall if he could divorce his wife, Mamie, and marry the Irishwoman. They denied his request and convinced him that it would lead to political suicide. They just may have been onto something….
Sadly, Kay passed away from cancer in 1975 at age 66. Her memoirs – scandalously titled “Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight D. Eisenhower” and rumoured to be ghost written by Barbara Wyden – were released the following year. If you are looking for more information on this tittilating topic, I would recommend this book as your next read- apparently she spills all the juicy wartime gossip.