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White House fires its chief usher — the first woman in that job

White House staff were informed on May 5 that chief usher Angella Reid was no longer working there. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

The White House has fired its chief usher, Angella Reid, the first woman and second African American to hold the position.

When the White House residence staff arrived at work Friday morning, they were told that Reid was no longer employed, according to someone with knowledge of the dismissal. A White House official confirmed that Reid is no longer working at the White House.

Reached by phone, Reid declined to comment, saying only, “I think it’s best if the White House explains.”

During Friday’s daily briefing with reporters, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy White House press secretary, said that the deputy usher will serve as the acting usher.

“She is no longer employed here at the White House,” Sanders said when asked about Reid’s departure. “We left on very good terms and wish her the very best and certainly hope for great things for her in the future. However, it’s not uncommon you might have a transition of staff when a new administration comes in. It’s nothing more than that.”

The job is one that typically involves a long tenure — there have been just nine since the beginning of the 20th century. The White House declined to provide any specifics for the reasons behind Reid's departure.

Despite the unusual title, the chief usher oversees all activities in the White House residence and works as general manager of the building, handling everything from the large staff of butlers, maids, chefs, florists and electricians to fiscal, administrative and personal duties.

The chief usher also works closely with the first family, including providing guidance on the furnishings, art and decor.

Reid, who previously worked for the Ritz-Carlton hotel group, joined the White House in 2011 under President Barack Obama.

Angella Reid, first woman named chief usher at the White House

She replaced the first African American chief usher, Adm. Stephen W. Rochon, when he left to take a job at the Department of Homeland Security.

Sudden dismissals from the White House’s permanent staff are rare. The last one that people interviewed for this story recall was in 1993, when the Clintons fired an assistant usher who had a friendly phone conversation with Barbara Bush that was thought to be inappropriate.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian and professor of history at Rice University, said that it is highly unusual for an administration to fire its chief usher, especially without providing any explanation. “If there is a very compelling reason for the dismissal, the White House needs to tell the public” he said. “Otherwise it comes off as cruel.”

“Knowing Angella, I doubt seriously that she would have done something herself to cause this,” said Rochon, Reid’s predecessor. “She worked for years in top management in hotels. She knows about hospitality. She is definitely professional but you’re not going to please everybody.”

Reid was said to be close to the Obamas, who hired her for the job, but three people with knowledge of the situation said there were tensions with the household staff she managed, some of whom viewed her as bossier than previous ushers.

“For the staff, she was a little tough on them because they could be freewheeling,” said a former White House official, who is frequently in touch with the residence staff and requested anonymity to describe the personnel situation.

Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to Laura Bush, spoke highly of Reid but said her background in the hospitality sector may have left her less prepared for the transition between administrations than other White House residence staff members, who had served Democrats and Republicans in the course of their careers.

“These are the people that have the most intimate details and knowledge of how you live your life,” McBride said of the relationship between the household staff and the first family. “You just come on board and you have to click, in the past it would not have occurred to [a first family] to make a change at the top like that. … There was more of an expectation that there are certain things that come with the White House.”

In 2014, the usher’s office — then under Reid — found itself embroiled in a controversy after a fence-jumper, who was carrying a knife, made it well inside the executive mansion. At the time, the Secret Service said that an alarm box near the White House’s front entrance intended to alert its agents to intruders had been muted at the request of the usher’s office, which felt it was too noisy and frequently malfunctioning.

White House fence-jumper made it far deeper into building than previously known