Margaret Truman Daniel, GW alumna and former first daughter, dies at 83

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Margaret Truman Daniel, a GW alumna whose father was inaugurated as U.S. president during her junior year, died in Chicago Tuesday at the age of 83. A singer and the author of Washington-based murder mysteries, she was much more than a president’s daughter.

Her family will not release the details of her death, according to a representative from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Mo., her hometown.

“She had a homestead attraction to her,” said Nicholas Lakas, Daniel’s classmate and a fellow member of the Glee Club, a singing group. “She was not snooty. She talked to you as if you were in Independence with her.She was attractive in her own Midwestern way.”

Upon graduation, Daniel launched her professional singing career, with mixed reviews. Beginning in 1980, she began churning out novels in her Capital Crime series that followed murders in the White House, Foggy Bottom, Georgetown and the Watergate. A recurring character in the series was a fictional ex-lawyer and GW professor, Mackenzie Smith.

In addition to penning a 1956 autobiography, “Souvenir: Margaret Truman’s Own Story,” Daniel wrote portraits of both of her parents. A socialite and an aspiring star, she used her books as a way to reflect and comment on Washingtonians, something she was not always able to do as a public figure.

She wrote in “Souvenir,” “The real self hides behind a hundred subterfuges and deludes one with acquired mannerisms and superficial trappings. It was especially not very easy for me to know myself because I never had time.”

Daniel chose to attend GW because of its well-known history and government departments, and because it was close enough that she would be able to live at home, according to “Souvenir.” Jane Lingo, her best friend from Gunston Hall, a boarding school for girls, was also going to GW. Lingo, GW’s longest-serving employee, died last year at the age of 83 of breast cancer.

Daniel and Lingo used to hang out at the soda fountain that was located in the space that is now Tonic. She was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, Phi Phi Epsilon Foreign Service fraternity and the Canterbury Club, a group for Episcopalians. Lakas, who dated Lingo, said many of the girls at GW had parents in the government and secret service, but that did not change how they treated the women they dated.

“We never knew who their parents were. We’d jump in the car, sit in each other’s laps, and off we’d go,” Lakas said about dates he had with members of the Glee Club.

The media, including The Hatchet, took an extraordinary interest in Daniel’s love life, often, according to her autobiography, reporting untrue matches. In 1946, a Hatchet headline read, “Boss’ Daughter Great Catch for Anyone,” a headline that she said “embarrassed me and hurt my feelings.”

Her father gave the Commencement speech at her 1946 graduation ceremony in Constitution Hall, and presented her with a diploma. President Truman was awarded an honorary LL.D. at the time.

In 1951, on a vacation in Europe, Daniel stopped in Ireland, where she unexpectedly saw Lakas, who was the American Vice-Consul at Cork. Reminiscing about their Glee Club days, Lakas took Truman out to the theater in Dublin.

“One day you’re marching down Lisner, and the next time you meet, you’re in a far off place, two GW kids,” Lakas said.

In 1956 she married Clifton Daniel, an editor at the New York Times. The couple had four sons. Her son William Wallace Daniel was killed in 2000 after being struck by a taxi.

She is survived by her sons Clifton Daniel, Harrison Daniel, Thomas Daniel and five grandchildren.

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