Author and journalist Kate Andersen Brower detailed the experiences of those who often work behind the scenes at the White House, ensuring everything functions smoothly while serving the first family, while discussing her new book, “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House,” Wednesday night.
Brower said staffers who often work with first families for up to 30 or 40 years, develop close relationships with them.
“I came up for the idea for ‘The Residence’ when I was a reporter at Bloomberg News and I had lunch with Michelle Obama and about a dozen other White House reporters,” Brower said. “And at this lunch, a butler came in and out of the room … and Mrs. Obama called him by his first name and it made me wonder who are these people who, none of us, as reporters, ever got to actually see.”
Brower said the stories she shared from the book were largely unknown until she began talking to White House staffers. Ann Arbor resident Frank Tinnie was surprised by many of the stories that Brower shared, since he didn’t know many of them.
“The fact that the staff has been there for so long, and generations of families have worked there, I thought that was interesting,” Tinnie said. “And the idea that the first ladies still stay in contact.”
As the event was held in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Brower fittingly told many stories about Gerald and Betty Ford, and added that Betty Ford is her favorite first lady.
“(Dick Cheney) fondly remembers approaching President Ford along with Donald Rumsfeld, and going into the Oval Office — this was during the presidential campaign — and just very meekly suggesting that someone tell Betty Ford to stop being so vocal about her support for the Equal Rights Amendment,” Brower said. “And President Ford just looked at him and said, ‘Boys, you know where her office is in the East Wing; you go tell her yourself.’ ”
The departure of each president is often an emotional one after four or eight years spent with staffers. Whether it’s eating with staffers or having tea with them, Brower said the first families get to know the people who work for them.
“The staff gathers with the outgoing president … and they say goodbye, and it’s usually so emotional that there isn’t a dry eye in the room,” Brower said.
After the assassination of President John Kennedy, Brower said, first lady Jackie Kennedy found privacy only within the confines of an elevator in the White House with a staffer. Ann Arbor resident Stephen Arquette was surprised by this particular story, especially the fact that Jackie Kennedy couldn’t find privacy anywhere else.
“It’s interesting to know that Jackie Kennedy was able to express her grief with one of the staff there, but only in the isolation and privacy of the elevator, which I was surprised was one of the few places that they felt private,” Arquette said.
Other stories within the book were more personal, including an anecdote about President Lyndon Johnson and his shower. Johnson insisted there was something wrong with his shower, leading to one of the White House plumbers having a nervous breakdown and tens of thousands of dollars being spent to alter the water temperature and pressure.
“One of Johnson’s advisers told me that he was essentially a manic depressive, he was kind of all over the place,” Brower said. “And he pointed to this example of Johnson’s obsession with the White House shower. The project … was paid for with classified funds that were supposed to be earmarked for security. (The White House) ended up with four pumps and had to increase the size of their water line because the other parts of the house were being sucked dry.”