Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Great Federal Employees Initiative

Honoree for Week of April 12, 2010

Thelma Stubbs Smith

Former Personal Assistant, Secretary of Defense

A native of Chicago, Thelma began her public service career during World War II, when she worked for the Selective Service System and the Office of Price Administration.  After the war, she worked as a secretary at the Veterans Administration before coming to Washington to work for the Pentagon’s Guided Missiles Committee.  Thelma briefly served on the staff of Illinois Congressman Melvin Price in 1952, but she soon returned to the Pentagon.  In the 1950’s and ‘60s, Thelma served as the personal assistant to six Assistant Secretaries of Defense, including William Bundy, John McNaughton, and Paul Nitze.  During this time, she began accompanying them on what would later total eighty-five trips overseas during her career.  As part of her duties during that period, she worked closely with Secretary Robert McNamara.  One of the most harrowing moments in her life came on the thirteenth day of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Thelma spent that evening personally burning important cables and notes in a small office at the Pentagon, as they were too sensitive to be shredded with other papers.  When she finally left after midnight, she was one of the few Americans who knew just how precarious the situation was, and she couldn’t say with certainty whether the Pentagon would be there the next morning.  In 1969, when Melvin Laird was confirmed as Secretary of Defense, he asked Thelma to serve as his personal assistant, and she continued as the personal assistant to every Secretary of Defense from Melvin Laird to Frank Carlucci.  During the course of her service, Thelma visited every corner of the world.  She was awarded ten Meritorious Civilian Service Medals and the Secretary of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, which is the highest medal a civilian employee of the Pentagon can earn.  Thelma retired in 1989.

Read Senator Kaufman's full remarks on Thelma Stubbs Smith HERE

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