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The Working White House: Learning the Ropes

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I thought I knew how to serve. But the White House is different. Other places you can make mistakes and you don’t feel so bad; but you don’t feel like making mistakes for the president and first lady.

Eugene Allen - pantryman, butler, maître d’ 1952-86

White House workers have frequently come to their jobs with experience in hotels and resorts, in large town or country houses, or in the railroad industry as conductors and porters. In these settings, workers developed the poise, polish, and professionalism needed to attend to the most discerning patrons.

Their prior training served these individuals well in the White House, but each employee quickly had to learn the ways of the Executive Mansion: what to do and when to do it, who was in charge, how to offset a crisis, and how to adjust to the first family’s tastes and preferences. Some new workers were assigned mentors; others were on their own to discover what was expected of them at America’s most recognized address.

White House workers share a cooperative spirit that in turn helps to foster strong bonds among the staff. Employees from many different units collaborate regularly to help each other prepare for special events or accomplish daily tasks.