Editors Note: Most of our understanding of Secret Service work comes from Hollywood. Few of us have ever met a Secret Service Agent, or maybe you have and don’t know it. “Inside the Secret Service-A Former Agent’s Stories” is about life as a Secret Service agent. Our contributor is still a Federal Agent but with a different agency, therefore we have chosen not to reveal his name. These are stories of real life experiences from a Concord resident who spent several years as a Secret Service agent. This is his story….
Secret Service Agents are constantly asked about the personal lives of protectees (a protectee is anybody protected by the Secret Service). I am happy to share “inside” stories, especially when they reflect protectees’ kindness and compassion. No ulterior motives, no press coverage, no political undertones. Their human side, if you will.
All politics aside, one protectee who was and is admired by all agents is Former First Lady Barbara Bush. Her kindness is legendary within the agency. Stories of her baking cakes or cookies for agents on their birthdays are well known. Agents often describe her as grandmotherly. I have never met nor heard of an agent who ever had anything negative to say regarding Mrs. Bush (nor her husband for that matter).
But, I remember several years ago working with an agent on the road somewhere (you traveled so much in the Service that you would often lose track of where certain things occurred. They just happened “on the road somewhere”) who told me of the time he was “reprimanded” by Mrs. Bush when the Bush’s were in the White House. Agent John was standing post at a door just outside the south lawn side of the White House. It was the middle of the night and snowing when the call came over the radio that Mrs. Bush was moving down from the 2nd floor residence to the south lawn with the First Dog, Millie, the Bush’s beloved Springer Spaniel. Evidently, Millie had to answer the call of nature. Agent John was wearing a suit, but no coat in the bitter cold air when Mrs. Bush who was in her robe and slippers and Millie stepped outside to John’s post. Mrs. Bush looked at him and in a stern voice and said, “John, where’s your coat?!” John told her he was fine and only had 10 minutes remaining on his shift. Mrs. Bush curtly replied, “You get a coat on right now!” She proceeded to the lawn with Millie. When they returned, she gave John a glaring frown and proceeded into the White House.
Seconds later, out stepped Mrs. Bush with a coat. She handed the coat to John and ordered, “Now you put this on and I don’t want any arguing!” Mrs. Bush meant business and who was John to argue with the First Lady? He thanked her and she told him good night as she headed into the White House and up to bed. John reluctantly slipped the coat on as ordered. He was stunned when he noticed embroidered over the left breast, the official presidential seal. On the right was embroidered, “President George H. W. Bush.” So, for the remaining minutes of his shift, John stood, in the snow, wearing the jacket of the nation’s 41st President.
My first encounter with Former First Lady Bush was in San Francisco. I was a new agent and she was one of my first protectees assignments. I had always been a fan of hers (well, at least the warm persona that came across on the T.V. screen) and I was looking forward to working her detail. I had hoped she would be as warm and kind as I had heard. Not that it would have any bearing whatsoever on the way in which I performed my duties, but it was always nice to work a protectee who at least seemed to appreciate our presence. Mrs. Bush was coming to San Francisco to be the surprise keynote speaker at a large corporation’s annual awards banquet which was being held at the Parc 55 Hotel. She would also be staying overnight at the hotel. My assignment for the visit was as a Post Stander both in front of her hotel suite door and at her event site – a boring assignment for veteran agents, but pretty cool when you’re the new guy. We owned the wing of the floor where Mrs. Bush’s suite was located. In addition to the suite, her traveling assistant’s room was on this wing, as well as our Secret Service Command Post (operation center). All remaining rooms were assigned to agents. Other Secret Service rooms were strategically located on other floors of the hotel. Upon arrival at the hotel, Mrs. Bush was scheduled to spend some down time in her suite to rest and freshen up before speaking at the banquet that evening.
The Command Post made the notification over the radio to all agents that Mrs. Bush’s motorcade had arrived at the hotel. Our wing/floor was secure, bomb sweeps completed, and agents posted. I was at the end of the hall, posted at her suite door. A few minutes later, down the opposite end of the hall and around the corner, the “ding” of the elevator bell broke the silence. Then from around the corner came an agent, followed by Mrs. Bush, her assistant, and several other agents. At this point, Mrs. Bush was out of the public eye. This is often when a protectee will lose the smile and you notice the exhaustion in their eyes; but not Mrs. Bush. She had a big, warm, smile on her face and her eyes sparkled. She was wearing a conservative yet classy sky blue dress, her white hair was neatly done exactly like I had seen a hundred times before in pictures and on T.V. and around her neck she wore her famous fake pearls. As she came down the hall she said hello to each agent. Then she came to me at her suite door and said, “Hello, how are you?” I replied, “Hello ma’am.” She looked and acted exactly how I’d hoped she would. She and her assistant entered the suite. I closed the door behind them and continued to stand post at the door. She had about an hour-and-a-half of downtime in the suite before she was to speak at the awards banquet.
Approximately 20 minutes before Mrs. Bush was to depart her suite in route to the banquet room, I was reassigned to “push” (relieve) the agent who was posted at the Hold Room, located directly behind the banquet room. It was actually a wide hallway where Mrs. Bush would wait before being introduced and taking the stage to deliver her speech. The area was secured, meaning it had been closed off to the public, swept for explosives, and the agent I was to push (relieve) was posted there to maintain the integrity. I pushed the agent and held the area.
Several minutes later the command post radioed to advise that Mrs. Bush would be departing the suite momentarily in route to me at the hold area. I informed that all was clear. Shortly thereafter, an agent came in, followed by Mrs. Bush, her assistant and several other detail agents. Mrs. Bush entered the area with the same sparkle in her eyes and beaming smile she had when she arrived at her suite earlier.
However, unbeknownst to her, the CEO of the corporation that she was about to speak to had a surprise for her. Knowing Mrs. Bush was a dog lover, he had prearranged with Mrs. Bush’s assistant and the Secret Service to bring into the hold area his own Springer Spaniel, which looked much like the Bush’s dog, Millie. So, as Mrs. Bush stood talking with her assistant and her Secret Service Detail Leader, the CEO entered the hold area from a doorway about 50 feet away with his spaniel on a leash. When a surprised Mrs. Bush saw the dog, she did a double take, her eyes widened, and she immediately shouted, “Oh, aren’t you cute?!” She then dropped to one knee, clapped her hands together twice and shouted “Come here! Come here!” The CEO let go of the leash and the spaniel shot over to Mrs. Bush and jumped with her front paws onto Mrs. Bush’s knee. The dog wiggled franticly with excitement as Mrs. Bush cradled the dogs head with a hand on each side of its cheeks and kissed it on the top of the head. She remained on one knee at eye level with the dog and said, “I have one at home just like you!” She then hugged the dog as the dog excitedly got a few licks in on Mrs. Bush’s face. I don’t know who was happier, Mrs. Bush or the Springer Spaniel.
Here, the Former First Lady of the United States was about to give a presentation to 500 people. Yet without giving it a second thought, and with total disregard to the possibility of dog hair and/or slightly smudged makeup, she was on one knee sharing a heartfelt moment with man’s best friend. I was amazed and totally impressed at this sight. For my first protectee assignment, I couldn’t have been more delighted. She was the same genuine person in true life as she was on T.V., the person I had hoped she would be; unpretentious, kind, warm and caring — a true first class Former First Lady.
Next month – “The Last Time I Was Here, They Shot at Me.”
If you have questions you would like to ask the agent, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Select questions will be answered in a Q and A format in future editions.