Rex Scouten, A Remembrance: White House Chief Usher (1969-86), White House Curator (1986-97)
Rex W. Scouten’s career encompassed many of the important persons and events of the 20th century White House. A 1948 graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice, his White House service began in 1949 a Special Agent of the United States Secret Service, and he went on to serve as Deputy to the Chief Usher, Assistant Regional Director for White House Liaison with the National Park Service, Director of the Executive Residence and Chief Usher (1969-86), and as White House Curator from 1986 until his retirement in 1997.
As a Secret Service agent Mr. Scouten accompanied President Harry Truman on his celebrated morning walks and was at Truman’s side when he crawled among girders to inspect progress of the 1948-52 restoration of the White House. Mr. Scouten was on duty in November 1957 when President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a cerebral occlusion, and he was supervising the redecoration of the Oval Office when he learned of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Mr. Scouten then remained in the White House for the next five days, helping arrange for dozens of world leaders to attend the president’s funeral.
As Deputy to the Chief Usher and as Chief Usher, Mr. Scouten contributed to the success of formidable logistical tasks such as Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy’s July 1961 dinner on Mount Vernon’s lawn for President Ayub Khan of Pakistan, and the most elaborate White House dinner of modern times, given in May 1973 for almost 1,400 people by President and Mrs. Nixon on the South Lawn to honor returned Vietnam POWs. A decorated veteran of U.S. Army service in World War II, Mr. Scouten participated in Operation Shingle, the 1944 Allied amphibious landings in Anzio and Nettuno, Italy, and in 1994 he accompanied President and Mrs. Clinton on their journey to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Anzio battles at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial site.
As Curator, Mr. Scouten was responsible for the White House collection of fine and decorative arts and the continuing research on the history and furnishings of the Executive Residence, and he enthusiastically supported historical scholarship on all aspects of the White House. He was an important facilitator of the 1992 bicentennial celebration of the White House, and was an honorary member of the board of the White House Historical Association. When the White House ornament program began in 1981 with an ornament commemorating President George Washington, Mr. Scouten arranged for President and Mrs. Reagan to place the decoration on the Blue Room tree, and an annual tradition was begun.
Mr. Scouten received many honors, including the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, the George McAneny Award and the American Historical Preservation Society Award. He served as a member of the Board for Preservation of the White House, and Association member of former agents of the U. S. Secret Service.