Mr. Scouten grew particularly close to first lady Nancy Reagan, who once described him as “the second most important man in my life.” They were together in the White House’s third-floor solarium on March 30, 1981, when she learned her husband had been shot by a gunman outside a Washington hotel.
Not long afterward, Mr. Scouten and White House curator Clement E. Conger guided Nancy Reagan in the first major interior renovation in a decade.
In a statement Friday, Reagan said Mr. Scouten “provided leadership for the household staff [and] served as the trusted keeper of White House history for almost fifty years. Everyone teases me about it to this day, but I admired Rex Scouten so much that when I received a wonderful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel for Christmas in 1985, I named him ‘Rex’ as a tribute to him.”
Mr. Scouten stepped down as chief usher in 1986 and succeeded Conger as White House curator until his final retirement in 1997.
As curator, he worked to obtain and preserve tens of thousands of pieces of artwork, furniture and tableware in the White House collection. His successor as chief usher, Gary Walters, said Mr. Scouten worked with first lady Rosalynn Carter to revitalize what is now the White House Endowment Trust. By the late 1990s, it had raised $25 million for upkeep of the White House’s public rooms.
Rex Wayne Scouten was born Sept. 16, 1924, on his family’s farm in Snover, Mich. During World War II, he served in the Army and participated in the invasion of Anzio, Italy.
He was recruited to the Secret Service after graduating in 1948 from Michigan State University’s criminal justice school. He soon joined the White House detail and later accompanied then-Vice President Nixon on his tours overseas.
With a growing family, Mr. Scouten sought a job requiring less travel and in 1957 joined the White House staff as assistant to the chief usher. During the Johnson administration, he left to work as the National Park Service’s liaison to the White House. Nixon appointed him chief usher in 1969.
Mr. Scouten, a Fairfax City resident, died at Inova Fairfax Hospital of complications from hip surgery, his family said. Survivors include his wife of 64 years, Dorothy Walker Scouten of Fairfax; and two daughters, Carol Scouten of Apopka, Fla., and Carla Scouten of Charlottesville.
Despite his record, Mr. Scouten was not the longest-serving usher. That distinction fell to Irwin “Ike” H. Hoover, who served 42 years until his death in 1933. Hoover set a high standard for discretion when he reportedly declined $50,000 to write a tell-all memoir. His dictum was, “When I pass out, everything I know goes with me.”
Mr. Scouten followed in that tradition, even sometimes to his own social disadvantage. “You don’t want to travel in circles where people ask you inside stuff about the First Family, so you get down to the people you know won’t ask,” he once told the New York Times. “I didn’t even tell my wife things.”