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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Abbie Rowe-White House Photographer

Abbie Rowe

     Abbie Rowe was the youngest child of Abbie and Juliet Row. He was born in Strasburg, Virginia on August 23, 1905 shortly after the Row family sold Greenfield. His online biography, posted by the Harry S Truman Library, states that he suffered from polio as a youngster. However, his niece Marie Clark wrote in her history of the Rows that Abbie's problem was the result of a traumatic accident that occurred while he was a small child living in Strasburg. She wrote that a log rolled off the roof of a chicken coop, striking Abbie on his shoulder and leg. The doctor set his broken collar bone but was unaware that Abbie's hip was fractured as well. Abbie spent the next year in bed.

Abbie with his sister Maxine

     The Rows moved to Alexandria in 1910. Abbie was taken to a chiropractor named Dr. Gustafson, who treated him until he could walk with the aid of crutches and later without them. Still, his injured leg never grew properly and remained a foot shorter than his good leg. As an adult Abbie would strap on a heavy metal prosthesis each day. His niece remembered that he would attach tire treads, cut to size, to the bottom of this device to provide cushioning.

     Despite this handicap, Abbie led a vigorous, active lifestyle both personally and professionally. He hiked, camped, rode bicycles and played tennis. He was a member of the Appalachian Trail Club. Abbie was also an avid canoeist and belonged to both the Old Dominion Boat Club in Alexandria and the Washington Canoe Club.
     In addition to these activities Abbie was also a dedicated amateur photographer. One day while taking pictures in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. Abbie had a chance encounter with Eleanor Roosevelt, who was horse riding with one of her aides. Abbie asked her permission to take her picture and afterward had a pleasant conversation with her. Mrs. Roosevelt was so charmed by Abbie that she wrote an article about him in her column "My Day." At the time Abbie was an employee of the Bureau of Public Roads. With the encouragement of the President's wife Abbie applied to the National Park Service to be a photographer. He got the job and soon thereafter was assigned as official White House photographer, a position he would hold during five administrations.  

Abbie Row with his mother and niece

     Each President Abbie worked for liked and respected him. For example in 1948 the White House was renovated while the Trumans lived at Blair House. Abbie was presented with a walking cane made from an original timber taken from the White House. Eisenhower gave several canvases he painted to Abbie and even played golf with him on one occasion.
     Although our branch of the family had come to prefer the simpler version of our name, Abbie preferred the old English version and used "Rowe" throughout his adult life.
     Abbie married late a divorcee named Grace Judy in 1959. They had no children, and later divorced.

Abbie with radio star Jimmy Wellington (l) and Virginia Governor Darden

     Abbie continued to work as White House photographer even after being diagnosed with cancer in late 1965. As his strength failed him his co-workers placed a cot in his office so that he could rest some during the day. His niece also remembered that when he was so frail that he could scarcely climb the steps to the White House the reporters and photographers would stand aside and let him through first. Abbie died on April 17, 1967. He is buried near his parents in Riverview Cemetery in Strasburg.

The Washington Post, April 19, 1967

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