Common section


A few weeks after our daughter Charlotte was born, I went outside to get some fresh air and check the mail. I was surprised to find a crisp white envelope with a return address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In it was a note signed by the Obamas congratulating us on Charlie’s birth. This kind of letter is sent to VIPs and friends and family of White House staff, and I couldn’t think of who would have done such a thing for us. That’s not because I didn’t know anyone who would have gone to that kind of trouble; it’s because there were simply too many people to choose from whowould have been so thoughtful.

I’ve interviewed more than a hundred residence workers, presidential aides, and first family members during the course of my research, and so many of them were profoundly generous. Eventually, I narrowed it down to former storeroom manager Bill Hamilton, who started his career in the executive mansion when President Eisenhower was in office. When I called to thank him, Hamilton replied, “Sorry I didn’t get it to you sooner.” That’s just the way these people are. They devoted their careers to taking care of the firstfamily and they are far from the quintessential self-serving political operatives in this town. In fact, they seem to remain professional caretakers for the rest of their lives.

This book took me on a journey that began in October 2012 when I was taking care of our newborn son, Graham, at all hours of the day and night. Bleary-eyed, I started watching a marathon of Downton Abbey and became fascinated by the fraught relationship between two groups of people sharing a physical space so close in proximity but so far removed in every other way. It immediately took me back to an intimate reporter luncheon I attended with First Lady Michelle Obama. I remember the bright pink and green floral arrangements and champagne glasses clinking in the middle of the day—for a reporter used to eating sandwiches in a tiny office cubicle in the White House basement it was all so luxurious. But most of all, I remembered a butler who seemed to drift noiselessly in and out of the room.

I set out to meet these people who make the residence tick and it has been more eye-opening than I ever could have imagined. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing staffers who saw a playful side of Jackie Kennedy when she was relaxing in the family’s private quarters, and I interviewed the White House electrician who accompanied President Richard Nixon on the emotional walk from the Oval Office to the residence after he announced his resignation.

None of that would have been possible without the generosity of the following residence workers, many of whom opened their homes and their hearts to me, including Christine Limerick, Lynwood Westray, Skip Allen, Betty Finney, Bob Scanlan, Bill Hamilton, James Jeffries, Roland Mesnier, Nelson Pierce, Frank Ruta, Cletus Clark, Stephen Rochon, Bill Cliber, Linsey Little, Wendy Elsasser, Chris Emery, Ronn Payne, James Hall, Wilson Jerman, Worthington White, Gary Walters, Betty Monkman, Mary Prince, Walter Scheib, Vincent Contee, Milton Frame, John Moeller, Jim Ketchum, Tony Savoy, Ivaniz Silva, Nancy Mitchell, Providencia Paredes, Ann Amernick, Pierre Chambrin, Alvie Paschall, and Herman Thompson. Margaret Arrington shared stories about her deceased husband, Reds, and Charles Allen spoke lovingly of his father, Eugene. I especially want to thank James Ramsey whose smile lit up a room. I’m grateful for the time I spent with him.

Absolutely none of this would have been possible without my literary agent, Howard Yoon. Howard believed in me from the start and was there every step of the way. Beyond being an incredibly talented agent, he’s also a good friend who’s given me some wise parenting advice over the years. I’m also thankful to the remarkable Gail Ross, and to Dara Kaye, who is an integral part of the ace team at the Ross Yoon Agency. Their motto is “Books change lives.” Well, they’ve certainly changed mine and I am so grateful for it.

I so enjoyed working with the very gifted Cal Morgan at HarperCollins whose edits helped bring life and clarity to the manuscript, and I’m thankful to the talented Emily Cunningham for bringing so much energy to this project and for working to make it the best it can be. I’m also grateful for the support of the visionary Jonathan Burnham and for the guidance of my first editor Tim Duggan, whose passion for the subject matter was contagious. And thank you to Robin Bilardello, who exceeded all of my expectations with her cover design, and Beth Silfin for her expert advice.

I’m so thankful to my husband, Brooke, whom I always want to see more and more of and who makes my life so much sweeter. And to our incredible children, Graham and Charlotte, who bring us so much happiness. Thank you to my mom, Valerie, the smartest and most loving woman I know. (She also happens to be a highly skilled editor who helped me organize these stories and find my voice.) And to my wonderful dad, Christopher, who is my role model and who has instilled so much confidence in my sister Kelly and me. Kelly, it’s fun watching you grow up into such a smart and kind woman. And thank you to Nancy Brower (aka Mom Mom), our entire extended family, and to Mini and Elizabeth. I’ll always wish that we had more time with Bill Brower, who was a good man, a great father, and a loving Pop Pop.

The first ladies I interviewed wanted to help shine a light on the people who made their lives bearable in the White House. I appreciate their time and am grateful for their insights as ultimate White House insiders. Laura Bush told me about the horror of 9/11 and the healing process that she and the staff went through together. Barbara Bush recounted her playful friendships with the household workers. (“You don’t tease people that you don’t like. You tease people you like. . . . They teased back, and I deserved it.”) Rosalynn Carter praised the staff for making her family feel more comfortable during the tense 444-day Iran hostage crisis. She seemed genuinely moved by the kindness they showed her. Tricia Nixon, Luci and Lynda Johnson, Steve and Susan Ford, and Ron Reagan all helped reveal what it’s really like to live in the “great white jail.”

I also greatly enjoyed talking with former social secretaries Amy Zantzinger, Desirée Rogers, Julianna Smoot, and Bess Abell, and am so appreciative for the help of Sally McDonough, Kaki Hockersmith, Melissa Montgomery, Deanna Congileo, and Wren Powell. Thank you to the presidential aides who provided an important perspective into the relationship between the political staff and the residence workers: Anita Dunn, Reggie Love, Katie Johnson, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Reid Cherlin, Adam Frankel, Julianna Smoot, Andy Card, and Anita McBride. And thank you to Emmy Award winner Pete Williams, who very generously took my book jacket photo and made me laugh in the process. I’m also grateful to the White House Curator’s Office, the White House Historical Association, and to the staffs at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, the Richard Nixon Foundation, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon gave me this simple and necessary advice after months and months of interviews and research: “Sit down and start writing!” A bestselling author and accomplished journalist herself, Gayle was an important sounding board for me throughout this journey. And thank you to Christina Warner and Annie Kate Pons. Annie, I love “doing life with you” too, even if we are on opposite coasts.

I’m eternally grateful to Bloomberg’s Al Hunt who gave me the chance of a lifetime when he assigned me to the White House beat, and to editors Joe Sobczyk, Steve Komarow, Jeanne Cummings, and Mark Silva who helped me discover the joys of reporting.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!