Rex Scouten Dies: Longtime White House Usher Started Career With Harry S. Truman

Rex Scouten, a fixture in the White House since the 1950s, died this week at age 88.

Scouten served for 10 first families as a Secret Service agent, White House usher, and chief curator, The Associated Press noted. He began his career during Harry S. Truman’s administration, being assigned to guard Truman for four years, and worked all the way through Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Though he started as a Secret Service agent, in 1969 Rex Scouten shifted duties, becoming chief usher. He left that position in 1986, but came out of retirement at the request of Ronald Reagan to become the White House curator. Scouten retired for good in 1997.

During the bulk of his career, Rex Scouten’s job was to run all the behind-the-scenes operations at the White House, The New York Times reported. He served as general manager to the hundreds of staff members, including cooks, servers, housekeepers, landscapers, and carpenters.

Friends often suggested to Scouten that he write a memoir about his 50 years in the White House, but he preferred to remain behind all the action.

“But it was anathema to him,” said Maria Downs, a White House social secretary for Gerald R. Ford and a friend of Scouten. “That was something press secretaries did, perhaps. Not the chief usher.”

Rex Scouten also acted as a go-between for those background workers and the first family. When Betty Ford asked him why servants seemed to avoid the family when they said hello, and Scouten explained that the Nixons preferred that the staff didn’t interact with them. After Ford’s conversation, Scouten relayed to the staff to open up, and the Fords had close relationships with staff members from then on.

He was so beloved in the White House that Ronald Reagan and his family named their dog Scouten.

Rex Scouten died at a hospital near his home in Fairfax, Virginia.