Mr. Scouten, who died Feb. 20 at 88, served 10 commanders-in-chief, starting as a Secret Service agent assigned to protect Harry S. Truman and ending as White House curator of fine arts and decorative objects for Bill Clinton in 1997.
From 1969 to 1986, he was White House chief usher, essentially the general manager of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. His duties included the smooth running of state dinners and presiding over major refurbishing projects in the 132-room mansion.
At times, he held sway over the most sensitive of perks, including who got bumped despite reservations for the White House tennis court.
As assistant and then chief usher for more than 25 years, Mr. Scouten was both a direct and peripheral participant in White House crises and celebrations. He often saw the most powerful families in the world at their most human and vulnerable.
He once approached Gerald R. Ford in the White House bedroom shortly after the president was rejected by the electorate in 1976. Mr. Scouten told Time magazine that he tried to remind Ford that it might be better after a distinguished career to move on and think about the next phase. “I don’t believe so,” the president said.
To author Kati Marton, Mr. Scouten recalled that President Lyndon B. Johnson, who enjoyed cowing nearly everyone, paid a certain price for the mercurial treatment of his staff.
“The clearest sign of how different he was from other presidents was that normally a half a dozen staffers and hangers-on would walk the president from the Oval Office to the residence,” Mr. Scouten said. “With President Johnson, only the Secret Service agents walked home with him.”
The usher, who oversees the physical White House and its staff, helps spruce up and redecorate the presidential mansion for every new occupant. He must often accommodate the most specific and adamant of tastes, within limits.
Once asked whether a leather sectional could ever find its way into the Red Room based on a presidential whim, Mr. Scouten replied it had once been tried but that “periods of the rooms are pretty well set and a person would be in hot water if he tried to change it.”
Mr. Scouten oversaw the logistical headaches of elaborate state dinners and other functions — the catering equivalent of a maneuver described in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”
During the Bicentennial period, he helped orchestrate two or three state dinners a month. He coordinated one of the biggest dinners ever hosted at the White House, President Richard M. Nixon’s May 1973 banquet on the South Lawn for hundreds of prisoners of war returning from Vietnam.
By that time, Mr. Scouten was a cool-handed veteran of such affairs. Among the most difficult, he said, was a 1961 state dinner thrown for Pakistani President Ayub Khan. President John F. Kennedy and the first lady hosted the event at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, 16 miles down the Potomac River from the White House.