WASHINGTON - Each night for 24 years, Emma Daniel Gray would diligently clean the White House. When she came to the president's chair, she would pause, cleaning materials in hand, and say a quick prayer.
The prayers asked for blessings, wisdom, and safety for each of the six presidents she served.
It's a "Backstairs at the White House" moment, a story that could have come from the 1979 Emmy Award-winning mini-series about the professional household staff to the presidential families.
Like the characters in that television show, Gray, who retired in 1979 and died June 8 at age 95, took great pride in her work, traveling each day by public transportation from her home here to the residence of one of the most powerful men in the world.
At the White House, she worked nights, in the executive offices. Her official title was charwoman, from the time she started with the government in 1943 until her retirement.
The first decade or so, she was assigned to what is now called the Government Accountability Office and a handful of other agencies.
In 1955, she was transferred to the White House "because of her excellent work," said one of her daughters, Lillie Collins of Forestville, Md. "It wasn't just her work; it was her character."
That nightly pause for prayer was in keeping with her habits of a lifetime.
A member of Holy Trinity Worship Center International in Washington, she "loved President Carter because she felt he prayed a lot," her daughter said, and she treasured a photograph of her shaking hands with him.
President Kennedy may have been her next favorite, because of the Christmas parties his administration threw for workers and their families, occasions that her children remember for Gray's insistence that they dress up and behave properly.
"She was a lady, a Christian lady," her daughter said.
Her pastor, Bishop Royce Woods, agreed.
"She was the type of person who could pull it from somewhere to make you smile, and make you feel it wasn't that bad, and it could be a better day," he said.
Emma Daniel was born April 16, 1914, in Edgefield, S.C., and raised by her grandfather, who had been a slave.
"He was sold three times," she told the Prince George's (Md.) Journal about 10 years ago. "He paid his boss' son 20 cents to teach him to read, and when he could read, he loved the Ten Commandments so much that people in the town began calling him Uncle Ten."
She married William Gray, also from South Carolina, and they came to Washington in 1943, part of a wave of black Southerners who sought opportunity in the nation's capital during World War II.