Sunday, February 1, 2009

From Victor to the White House


For a short time in 1905, Charles G. Ross was editor of the Victor Record. A fact, in itself, is not particularly remarkable. The Victor Record was a happening place for a recently minted journalism graduate of the University of Missouri. More interesting, however, is where the young editor ended up.
On Dec. 5, 1950, Charles G. Ross died of a heart attack at his desk in the White House, moments after concluding the afternoon radio and press conference for Harry S. Truman. Ross served as press secretary to the president from 1945 until his death.
Ross’s long and distinguished journalism career included teaching journalism at the University of Missouri, serving as chief Washington correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and winning the Pulitzer Prize serving as the editorial page editor of the St. Lois Post-Dispatch, among other things.
“My advice to all presidents is not to put a newspaper man to meet the press. Choose a politician … Newspapermen expect a former colleague to deal with them on their own terms. When he doesn’t – and often he can’t – they are resentful.
On the contrary, they expect on the average amount of assistance from a press secretary who has not had newspaper training,” wrote Ross in the Post-Dispatch in 1931, years before his childhood friend Harry Truman countered that advice.
Ross, Truman, and Bess Wallace were members of the class of 1901 at Central High School in Independence. Bess would later marry Harry at the Presbyterian Church across the street.
According to the Jackson County Examiner that reported the commencement exercises, “Charles G. Ross has a wonderful record in 11 years ward and high school. He has in that time never missed a roll call.” He was also mentioned as first in his class in scholarship, according to the article references through materials in the Kansas City Public Library.
A little over a month prior to his death, on Nov. 1, 1950, Ross is credited with pulling the president away from a window during an assassination attempt at the White House, according to historian Jim Caldwell.
A White House guard was killed and two others were wounded when two Puerto Rico nationals tried to storm Blair House on the White House grounds. The president, taking a nap at the time in Blair House, rushed to the window in his underwear to see what was going on. A guard outside yelling at him and Ross, pulling him away from the window, may have saved his life. Of the two attackers, one was killed in front of the house and the other was gravely on the front steps leading to it.
Of Truman, Ross was quoted on the incident, “I never in my life saw a calmer man.”
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