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Working In the White House

Last Month I attended the "White House Memories" program at the Trumbull Senior Center. There were about 30 others in attendance to listen to Alan Devalerio a former butler at the White House gives inside detail about White House entertaining under different administrations and how it has changed over the years. I am happy to say that I have officially shaken the hand of someone who shook the hand of Sinatra among many others.

I found it entertaining and humorous and at the same time educational. Mr. Devalerio had an easy way about him and I would recommend that you attend one of his sessions if he is back in our area again. For more information about him and his work, you can click here:

He describes these and more memories in more detail in his book "Upstairs at the Whitehouse". Here's some of the things I took away from his presentation:

  • At any time at White House there can be 100 employees working under the Usher

  • Mr. Devalerio is a Rhode Islander. When he relocated to Washington D.C., he met with Senator Pell and asked how a Rhode Islander might find some work in D.C.. Pell helped point him in the right direction and 7-8 months later the head butler called and asked if he would be willing to work - the only stipulation was that he just needed to bring a tux

  • His first event was a farewell affair for Jimmy Carter. Training was pretty much "on the job" since White House functions are always over staffed. He noted that he didn't have to do much that first night other than observe

  • Throughout career he has seen and met some of the biggest personalities, celebrities and more. In addition to the presidents and heads of state that came through the events at the Whitehouse: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Muhammad Ali, and more all made appearances

  • The state dinner is the biggest and most formal affair with tea, lunch and then a formal dinner. Eisenhower would set the state dinner for about 80 people with American style foods and a six course meal. Kennedy changed the look to be more European style foods, 4 course and about 100-110 guests. That format held fairly true throughout his tenure in the late 70's to early 90's

  • The White House has its own flower shop and full time florist. The mint used in some of the plates was actually grown on a greenhouse on the roof of the White House

  • Husbands and wives would not generally sit together

  • Frank Sinatra once requested that butler staff, if done with duties, be allowed to listen to the entertainment - so one night he was able to work, get paid and listen to Sinatra and Perry Como live

  • Working luncheons were done for heads of state. These were frequent. One memorable moment, Yitzhak Shamir head of state from Israel was a shorter man, and the floral arrangement in the middle of the table was hard to see over. So he moved it over a bit and knocked it over. Needless to say, floral arrangements were shorter after that

  • Family quarters on the second floor are immaculate and beautiful. Receptions and events up there were less formal but more intimate giving one who served a better look at who the first family "was"

  • He and others who served in the role often remark that they have dreams of being back at work only to wake up disappointed. Imagine a dream job - one that you woke up and didn’t know who you were going to see or meet.

If you get a chance to attend this session, it's really a good one. Getting the perspective of one who served others is certainly an interesting look at the personalities that often seem distant to us.

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