John Woodson Ficklin, 65, who retired in 1983 as the White House maitre d'hotel after 43 years service at the executive mansion, died of cancer Dec. 16 at Georgetown University Hospital. He lived in Washington.
He joined the White House staff as an extra butler about 1940, and became maitre d' six years later. During those years, he came to know the tastes and whims of the country's most successful statesman -- only some of which he would reveal to the press.
In a 1971 interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Ficklin revealed that the Trumans were "very nice, very plain people." It was during the Truman administration that he experienced his proudest day at the White House. Mrs. Truman called down to the butler's pantry and asked him to meet her in the library. She said, "I hear you have a new son. Your first child? Well, you'd better take the day off to be with your wife."
Also during the interview, Mr. Ficklin mused that while few first ladies cooked much, President Eisenhower did a good bit. "He barbecued steaks upstairs on the roof. He liked to cook. I barbecue some myself. But no, you can't say I picked up tips from him. He had his methods and I have mine."
He said President Johnson was the sort of man who liked to call down to the kitchen for meals at odd moments and that the Nixons were "easy to work for." He also added that it was "not true that President Nixon eats Wheaties for breakfast every morning. He changes around."
It was not until a 1982 Post story that Mr. Ficklin's connection with a modern legend was revealed. It was reported that he was the alchemist who made the official White House eggnog. It developed that the secret was to save eggnog from one year to the next, infusing what some aficionados term "mother of nog," the old batch, into the new.
"It tastes so much better for sitting that year, so smooth and mellow," Mr. Ficklin explained. "We keep it in the refrigerator, all sealed up. Northing's going to go bad -- after all, liquor stores keep milk and liquor mixtures on the shelf for a long time."
Though the exact proportion of "mother nog" to new eggnog may remain a state secret, Mr. Ficklin did reveal his foolproof recipe for the drink, a nectar known to please Republicans and Democrats alike:
A gallon and a half of bourbon, a gallon of brandy, and a gallon of rum is mixed with 10 gallons of commercial eggnog mix. He then explained that the potion is poured into punch bowls to which is added a quart of eggnog ice cream. If any remains, bottle tightly and store in a refrigerator for a year.
Mr. Ficklin was a native of Amissville, Va., and served with the Army during World War II. He moved to Washington in the early 1930s. He was a member of Ward Memorial AME Church in Washington. He also was a member The Butlers, a White House club, and The Dukes, a social organization.
Survivors include his wife, Nancy, of Washington; two sons, J. Woodson, of Upper Marlboro, and John Rory Ficklin of Washington; a brother, Samuel, of Washington, and five sisters, Clara Joiner of Mount Union, Pa., Mary Anderson of Marlow Heights, and Annie Keyser, Esttelle Jeffries and Flossie Malachi, all of Washington.