Robin Orr, named press secretary to Nancy Reagan less than a month ago, has become the first casualty of an administration not even in office.
The office of President-elect Ronald Reagan announced yesterday that Orr will be replaced as the future First Lady's press spokesman and will be appointed to a "high-level" position with the International Communication Agency in San Francisco.
The move, according to a transition office spokesman, was at Orr's request. "She wanted to be closer to her children," the spokesman said.
But it seems clear that the former society editor for the Oakland Tribune was moved aside for other reasons, first among them the apparent inability to keep her new boss out of hot water.
Orr's departure comes a day after Mrs. Reagan was reported as wishing the Carters would move out of the White House early so that the Reagans could begin refurbishing the family quarters.
The Reagan camp quickly denied the report, saying that Mrs. Reagan had only remarked that she might vacate the premises early at the end of the Reagan presidency to make way for the new occupants, but the disclaimer came from the transition office, not from Orr.
While no one has claimed that Orr was the source of the report -- in fact, Helen Thomas, the United Press International reporter who broke the story, says Robin Orr was not its source -- it made the papers shortly after a small "get-acquainted" cocktail party in Orr's honor attended by longtime White House correspondents and the press secretaries for several former First Ladies.
Whatever the source, said a Washington official familiar with the situation, "I can't think of a more disastrous story" to have appear in print."
Earlier it was reported -- erroneously, according to some sources -- that Orr had expressed a desire to move into the White House with the Reagans. Then there was the interview in which Nancy Reagan blithely acknowledged to reporters that she kept a "tiny little gun" at her bedside.
Possibly none of the less-than-positive publicity about the incoming First Lady could be attributed to Robin Orr -- the bedside gun story "certainly had nothing to do with Robin," said Nancy C. Reynolds, who is directing transition efforts in the East Wing.
But the bits added up to a press secretary who seemed to be having some trouble adjusting to her responsibilities as a protector rather than a reporter. In an interview shortly after her appointment, Orr described herself as a "Chatty Cathy" who would have to learn not to be so open.
Reynolds, who once served on an ad hoc basis as Nancy Reagan's press secretary, said Orr had never been to Washington until she came here with the Reagans. Her appointment as press secretary apparently was handled entirely by telephone, with Orr first expressing an interest in the job to Reynolds, then to Michael Deaver, a top Reagan adviser.
Orr, a veteran newspaperwoman who had worked at the Oakland paper for 30 years, "was not a stranger" to Mrs. Reagan, Reynolds said, and the future First Lady "seemed to be pleased" with her work.
"Washington experience," she noted, while not a prequisite for the job, "was a hoped-for thing." Orr, who worked briefly in public relations at two San Francisco department stores before going to work for the Tribune, had none of that.
At the White House yesterday where the Reagans were touring the family quarters, Orr also indicated that the president-elect and his wife seemed to be happy with her performance. She was leaving the press secretary's job, she said, because "they offered me a better position on the West Coast," where her three children, aged 17 to 27, live.
Neither she nor the transition office indicated what that job is. The ICA handles information and broadcast activities, such as the Voice of America, as well as cultural exchange programs.
The transition office did not indicate who will succeed Orr as Mrs. Reagan's press secretary, saying only that an appointment will be made "soon."
Meanwhile, the Carters-should-vacate-the-White-House story appeared to have become a private joke for the Reagans. The president-elect, emerging from the White House yesterday with his wife after her three-hour session with an interior decorator, asked, "Any moving date set?"
"You can't move in until the 20th," the date of the inauguration in January, she said.
"Can you get any decorating done early?"
"I don't think so," she replied.