Patricia Warner, one of the last female OSS spies, dies at 99
By JOE DWINELL | Boston Herald | Published: September 28, 2020
BOSTON (Tribune News Service) — Patricia Warner, one of the nation’s last OSS female spies who once worked undercover as a flamenco dancer, died Saturday in her Lincoln home surrounded by family. She was 99.
“I always told her she was the last leaf on the tree,” one of her sons Chris Warner, said.
She was a spy for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, serving in Washington, D.C., London and Madrid during World War II.
As the Boston Herald wrote last year in a profile, Patricia joined the OSS after her first husband, Harvard grad Robert Fowler III, was killed in the Pacific early in the war. He was an officer in the Navy, credited with torpedoing the second Japanese cruiser of the war.
“I can still remember the last time I saw him. It was at the elevator outside our sixth-floor apartment on 151 East 83rd Street in New York City. I followed him outside and we kissed goodbye and he was off to the Pacific,” Patricia said this summer.
“He’s the last person I see every night,” she added. “That was a real love affair doomed from the start. I knew he was going into the most dangerous place in the world then. I always hoped he’d get home. But he didn’t.”
It was 1942 and she would have their son alone back home months later. After the war, she married Charles Warner — a college professor and veteran who died in 2008 — and they had five children.
But as a young widow, she did the unexpected — she joined the OSS after the Navy said they didn’t take widows. She was 22 and quickly found herself serving overseas.
“I’ll never forget the day we landed in Madrid. We touched down right next to enemy planes. They were dark and black with swastikas on them. It was pretty scary,” Patricia said.
This reporter kept in touch with Patricia, almost weekly, since her story appeared in the Herald in a series titled: “Heroes of a Generation: World War II stories.” She kept safe during the coronavirus pandemic, but time just caught up to her.
“The panic during the pandemic,” she said recently, is similar to the war due to “what there is to know and what you don’t know.”
Last weekend Patricia squeezed this reporter’s hand to thank me one last time for telling her story. The honor was all mine.
She told of going undercover as a flamenco dancer in bars in Madrid before D-Day and just “letting go” and dancing; of attending bull fights in that city to recruit supporters; of being stalked by an enemy spy; and, helping a frightened Allied pilot escape back to England.
She spoke often of her spy partner and other women of the OSS who risked their lives to do their part during the war.
“This is the end of a historic era in American intelligence,” Charles Pinck, head of the OSS society, said Sunday of Patricia’s death. “These women never sought public acclaim.” They were told to keep it all secret.
Patricia Warner became an expert on anorexia and was named one of former President George H.W. Bush’s Thousand Points of Light for founding the Anorexia Nervosa Aid Society. She joined the Civil Rights movement, once getting arrested in Selma, Alabama. She was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in May for her OSS exploits.
“She was heroic, resilient, gracious and fantastic,” her daughter-in-law, Sue Warner, said Sunday. “I was so lucky to have known her.”
It’s a sentiment shared by all.
“I was well trained,” Patricia said, “I had the eye of a spy.”
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