Former White House Butler Serves Up Amusement, Anecdotes During Newtown Visit
Alan DeValerio really does not have anything disparaging to say about his decade-plus service as a butler at The White House.
The job was challenging at times, and certainly hard work — especially when one finds themselves balancing a tray of champagne flutes over the lap of the First Lady — but his memories and the anecdotes they inspired far outweigh any negatives.
That was the closing note on a visit by DeValerio to Newtown Senior Center on November 4. DeValerio had driven from the Baltimore area for the program, which was enjoyed by approximately 30 people in one of the center’s meeting rooms
DeValerio was a contract butler for The White House for about ten years, he said. His first job was the farewell dinner for outgoing President Jimmy Carter in December 1984. He continued working, he said, through the full Reagan era, and then left during the early part of George H.W. Bush’s term — and that was only because he picked up a full-time job.
“I couldn’t do both,” he said. “It’s odd hours, and the summertime especially can be tough.”
He worked his way up, he said, to a position where he was on the first list of people called on for State and other high profile dinners. He was also subbed in to prestigious positions, including serving President Reagan’s table one night when the President’s regular maitre d’ was unable to work that evening.
With items displayed on a table to his left, DeValerio talked about State Dinners (“Jackie Kennedy changed the whole look of State Dinners, with more seating, a different table layout, fewer courses served, and finer wines,” he said), some of the protocols he and other staff members were held to, and of course, some of the very famous faces he saw during his time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
It was a very enjoyable program, judging by the laughs and nods of appreciation from those in attendance that Thursday afternoon.
He drew laughs when he said that one of his first events was an outdoor evening event, a Christmas party, “when it was so cold, I saw a Congressman with his hand in his own pocket.”
DeValerio’s job that evening was serving hot chocolate to guests. Presenting the hot drinks that evening to Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter was the first of many times during the next ten years that he would directly serve a President or First Lady.
DeValerio also showed some of the menus, signed Presidential pens, tie pins, and other very special items he collected during his work.
DeValerio heard Carol Burnett do her famous Tarzan yell.
Ronald Reagan was “very affable and likeable,” he said. Barbara and George Bush were “very nice people, very outgoing.”
He served tables that included Frank Gifford, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Yitzak Perlman, Pierre Trudeau, Bob Hope, Sally Struthers, Yogi Berra, and Frank Sinatra.
The night Sinatra was a guest, DeValerio said, the entertainer reportedly asked that the butlers working that evening, if they finished their work, be allowed to return to the East Room for that evening’s entertainment. The team made sure its duties were finished in time to see Sinatra perform.
“So there I was,” DeValerio said, “watching one of the greatest entertainers in the world, and getting paid for it.
People may leave the White House,” he said, “but the White House never leaves you.
It was a dream job, he said toward the end of his presentation.
“Try to imagine going to your place of business, not knowing who might be there. That’s what it was: you never knew who was going to be there, but you knew it was going to be great.”
Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.