BOSTON — A secret memo written by a physician who examined an ailing President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 should be returned to the doctor's aide, who may publish it to help clear the doctor's name, the state Supreme Court ruled today.
The justices ordered the Boston law firm of Herrick & Smith to return the memo written by the late Dr. Frank H. Lahey, a founder of the Lahey Clinic, to Linda M. Strand, his longtime associate and former business manager of the clinic.
Lahey had examined Roosevelt at the White House in April, 1944, just months before the President successfully ran for a fourth term.
There have been suggestions that Roosevelt was gravely ill near the end of his third term and that Lahey was part of a conspiracy of silence on the matter of his health. Roosevelt died in April, 1945.
Before Lahey's death in 1953, the physician prepared a memo regarding the examination and gave it to Strand with the instruction: "If Dr. Lahey should ever be posthumously criticized for his conduct in relation to his consultation and his failure to make a public report thereof, the document was to be published if Mrs. Strand saw fit."
Strand, now 90 and living in Florida, gave the memo to the law firm after settling a lawsuit against the Lahey Clinic. She surrendered it with the understanding that the firm would hold it until there was sufficient posthumous criticism of Lahey so that she could "carry out the conditions upon which it was given to her," the decision said.
When Strand sought to recover the memo, a lower court judge ruled that the law firm had the right to make an independent judgment as to whether it should be returned.
The state Supreme Court disagreed.
During the legal battle, Strand produced several articles and letters written by historians and medical experts suggesting that Roosevelt was gravely ill near the end of his third term, the decision noted.
"In essence, the evidence presented suggests that Dr. Lahey was part of a conspiracy of silence regarding President Roosevelt's ill health. . . . The condition precedent to Herrick & Smith's redelivery of the 'Lahey memorandum' has occurred. Strand is entitled to possession of the memorandum," the court ruled.
Strand's lawyer, Richard Melick, said she plans to again review the memo and the criticism of Lahey, then decide whether to publish the memo and in what form.
"She doesn't want to make this a tabloid-type of situation. To her it's very serious business because she worked a long time with Dr. Lahey and had a great deal of respect for him," Melick said.