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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2011

Esther M. Romans, 1922-2011: Homemaker's secret stumped TV show panel

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Esther M. Romans, whose secret stumped a game show panel and earned her a moment of fame and a transatlantic trip, died July 6, 2011, in Mercy St. Charles Hospital of kidney failure. She was 89.

Mrs. Romans was a North Toledo homemaker with two young children in 1954 when she wrote to Garry Moore, host of the popular CBS television program I've Got A Secret: "My great-great-great-grandfather wrote the national anthem of France, 'La Marseillaise.' "

It was part of family lore: Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792 wrote the song that stirred revolutionary sentiment and became the French national anthem.

"We always knew that," her sister Margie Jay said.

Three years after Mrs. Romans sent her note, and with seven days' notice, the network told her it would feature her secret on April 10, 1957. She worked with the public library in Toledo to pin down specifics of the family tree. Network researchers went to work as well.

She was flown to New York City for the telecast.

"She was a very fashionable person, and they were still trying to deck her out and fix her up," her daughter, Robin, said.

On live television, watched by millions, she faced down regular panelists Bill Cullen, Henry Morgan, and Jayne Meadows, and guest, Hedy Lamarr, plus a quartet of stars of French cinema, including Jean Marais and Gerard Philipe. Mrs. Romans told The Blade later she was certain that the French actors would guess her secret.

No one did, though, and she received $80 -- and a two-week trip. She and her husband, Leonard, were flown to Brussels and then by helicopter to Paris for reservations at the Hotel George V.

"She had to go out and buy new clothes and cameras," her sister said. "The trip got quite expensive."

She served as a goodwill ambassador. Wire services sent back dispatches as she presented greetings and a glass key from Toledo on behalf of Mayor Ollie Czelusta. Marcel Leveque, president of the Paris Municipal Council, presented her a scarf bearing the city's crest and, for Mayor Czelusta, an autographed picture of Paris city hall.

Mrs. Romans visited a fashion designer's salon and bought a dress.

"They showed them a very good time," her sister said. "It was a very memorable experience for her, and for us just knowing they were there."

Life at home could be exciting too. Her husband was a 35-year Toledo Zoo employee. For the first part of his career, he was the zoo's bird keeper. Strangers came to the Romans' home at all hours with birds -- eagles and blue herons among them -- they thought the zoo would want.

She was born Feb. 12, 1922, in Los Angeles to Cecil and Jeanette DeLisle Davison. She grew up in what was then Washington Township and was a 1940 graduate of Whitmer High School.

She and her husband met at the former Trianon Ballroom on Madison Avenue. They married April 4, 1942.

She helped organize regular lunch get-togethers of her Whitmer classmates. She liked to knit, and, for family and friends, she made afghans and sweaters and scarves.

She and her husband had a time-share in Fort Lauderdale, which they visited twice a year for decades. Their daughter took over later, and Mrs. Romans was last able to visit in 2009.

She had been a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish and of Gesu parish.

Her husband died July 8, 1989.

Surviving are her daughter, Robin DeVerna; brothers, Robert and Willard Davison; sisters, Margie Jay and Jeanne Walker; four grandsons, and six great-grandchildren.

A memorial gathering will be held next month for family members and friends.

The family suggests tributes to the Kidney Foundation.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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