If you liked the movie “The Butler,” this book will probably fascinate you. It is the story of the many people, including butlers, maids, and chefs, who’ve worked in the White House during the last fifty years. Brower’s book, based on interviews with many of these employees and with members of the presidents’ families, shares these staffers’ observations of the Kennedys, Johnsons, Nixons, Reagans, Fords, Carters, Clintons, Bushes, and Obamas.
Discretion is such an important part of a White House staffer’s job that Kennedy’s philandering, well known to White House workers, remained a secret from the public for years after his death. However, retired staff members feel freer to reminisce. The book includes information about the Kennedy assassination, Lyndon Johnson’s incessant demands for a hotter, more forceful shower, Nixon’s resignation, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, staffers’ fleeing the White House on 9/11, fearing that it might be the terrorists’ next target, the Obamas dancing to Mary J. Blige’s songs on their first night in the White House, and many other significant, humorous, or heartwarming anecdotes.
One fact that surprised me is that staffers protect presidents from possible poisoning by destroying gifts of food. When Gorbachev sent fine caviar for the president, a staff member refused to throw it away and took it home, declaring that he would gladly risk death to enjoy this special treat!
While all staff members have enjoyed a unique opportunity to see the intimate lives of presidential families, working in the White House sometimes leads to a close friendship with a president. Especially, the elder President Bush and Barbara Bush treated the staff like members of their family.
(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)