When White House chief pastry chef Bill Yosses left the executive mansion last summer, the president publicly mourned the loss of “the crust master’s” mysteriously addictive pies. And when the first family’s personal chef and pal, Sam Kass, left in December, Michelle Obama heaped praise on Kass’s “extraordinary legacy of progress” in an official White House statement.
But the recent exit of head florist Laura Dowling, who’d been in the job since 2009, has been a much quieter affair. So hush hush, in fact, that most outside of 1600 Penn knew nothing about it. There’s still no official comment on why Dowling is no longer at the White House, but according to a source with close ties to current residence staffers, she was escorted from the building on Friday, Feb. 13.
The East Wing initially confirmed via a very brief e-mail that “Laura left her position earlier this year” but provided no further details. Later, the first lady’s office (not quoting the first lady specifically, mind you) sent this enhanced statement:
“As Chief Florist, Laura Dowling and her team treated guests of the White House to their beautiful floral arrangements. Ms. Dowling’s creations were always lively and colorful, reflecting not only the season but the unique and historic rooms which they graced. No two arrangements were ever the same and each one left guests with a lasting impression of the elegance and history of the People’s House. We are grateful for her contribution over the years and wish her well”
We also reached out to the Office of the Chief Usher, which oversees all residence staff. When we asked to speak with Dowling, the woman who answered the phone said, “She no longer works here.” And when asked if there was another head floral designer, she responded, “There really isn’t.”
Hours after we put in a call to Dowling’s Alexandria floral design shop, Intérieurs et Fleurs, she issued a statement via the law firm Sidley Austin.
“After almost 6 years as Chief Floral Designer at the White House, I have resigned in order to pursue exciting new opportunities and explore my passion for floral artistry and design. Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be launching a new platform for my work as an author, speaker, instructor and design consultant that builds on the creative ideas and partnerships I’ve formed during my tenure there. It’s been such an honor to work at the White House and I will always be grateful for this incredible opportunity.”
“This absolutely comes from the top. The first lady has the final say,” explained Kate Andersen Brower, author of the upcoming book, “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House.” Andersen Brower first heard of Dowling’s departure from three former residence staffers.
The silence from the East Wing surrounding Dowling’s exit is in sharp contrast to the buzz of her hiring.
After four rounds of cuts, Dowling and two other finalists went petal to petal in a reality TV-style competition that included designing a floral arrangement for a mock state dinner. Dowling, who is known for her organic and less formal “French look,” won the title and succeeded retiring florist Nancy Clarke, who’d held the top post for three decades.
At the time, Dowling was so excited about the big news that she scooped her bosses, announcing the new gig on Facebook before the East Wing had the chance to release its own statement. “Laura Dowling is excited and honored to be named the new White House florist,” wrote Dowling herself in a Sunday night post. The next day, the White House confirmed that she’d been working at 1600 Penn for a week.
According to a former residence staffer, Dowling’s exit “surprised a lot of people.” But the White House’s staff, continued this source, was discouraged from “trying to come up with their own conclusions.” Rumors, of course, have been flying ever since.
“I’m not sure what the reason is,” continued our source. “But I can think of a few.”