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Eugene Allen, White House butler for 8 presidents, dies at 90

As a butler at the White House, Eugene Allen saw eight presidential administrations come and go.

It pained Mr. Allen to hear vulgar words, sometimes racially charged, flowing from Johnson's mouth; and it delighted him when Johnson signed the historic civil rights bills of 1964 and 1965.

Sometimes Mr. Allen's own life seemed to stop beneath the chandeliered light. First lady Nancy Reagan came looking for him one afternoon, and Mr. Allen wondered whether he or a member of his staff had done something wrong. She assured him that he had not but also told him that his services would not be needed at the upcoming state dinner for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Mr. Allen tensed, wondering why.

"She said, 'You and Helene are coming to the state dinner as guests of President Reagan and myself,' " he recounted in the Post interview. Mr. Allen thought he was the first butler to receive an invitation to a state dinner. He and Helene -- she was a beautiful dresser -- looked resplendent that night. The butlers on duty seemed to pay special attention to the couple as they poured champagne for guests -- champagne that Mr. Allen himself had stacked in the kitchen.

Mr. Allen was mindful that with the flowering of the black power movement, many young people questioned why he would keep working as a butler, with its connotations of subservience. But the job gave him great pride, and he endured the slights with a dignified posture.

"He was such a professional in everything he did," said Wilson Jerman, 81, whom Mr. Allen hired to work at the White House in the early 1960s. "When my wife, Gladys, died in 1966, he told me not to worry about a thing. I didn't think I could get through that period, and he just took me by the hand. I'll never forget it."

Mr. Allen retired in 1986, after having been promoted to maitre d' five years earlier. He possessed a dazzling array of framed photographs with all of the presidents he had served, in addition to gifts and mementos from each of them.

The last item to be framed and placed on Eugene Allen's basement wall was a condolence letter from George W. and Laura Bush. It arrived from the White House just after the death of Helene.


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