Jamaican booted from historic position at The White House

Jamaican booted from historic position at The White House
Carolyn Kaster

Cinco de Mayo celebrated Mexico but it did not bode well for a Jamaican who made history October 2011 when President Barack Obama named her the first woman and second Black person to serve as the White House’s chief usher.

Angella Reid was fired on May 5 and reportedly relieved of her position without any explanation nor reason.

According to reports, on arriving to work on the usually festive day, White House staffers were told that Reid was no longer working there.

The White House declined to provide any specifics for the reasons behind Reid’s departure but a spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s administration said: “We are very grateful for her service and wish her the very best.”

Fluent in German and Spanish, Reid is credited with running the Hartford Marriot Rocky Hill Hotel in Connecticut and the Renaissance New York Hotel in New York City. A native of the parish of St. Thomas, Jamaica, she attended Excelsior High School in Kingston and soon afterwards in 1978 broached a career in the hospitality industry working at the Half Moon hotel in Montego Bay.

With a degree in hospitality management from the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft School in Munich, Germany, Reid took the highly-placed position at the White House after working for the Ritz-Carlton group in Washington D.C.

She had previously worked for the same hotelier in Miami and Arlington, Virginia.

During an interview about her trailblazing position at the official residence of the American president, Reid allegedly stated: “It was less about breaking a gender barrier. It really was about the astonishing unbelievable opportunity of serving the President and the First Lady and their family. I am just so grateful for the President and First Lady for taking a chance and bringing me on board… For other little girls who might not think it’s possible, really a culmination of hard work, focus, desire, that really opened that door.”

“What I think about most when I walk around the house is who has been here, how had one done what in this particular space. Because, you know, just to think that I am able to walk here now when 100 years ago, a president or first lady did, or other guests did, or some of my ancestors did… It gives me a sense of awe, the fact that slaves built this house and I now work in this house as a leader, something out of my wildest dreams.”

Reid’s tenure in the job was relatively short, in the last 100 years only nine people have occupied the position of chief usher.

Despite the unusual title, the chief usher oversees a staff of 100 responsible for everything that goes on in 100 rooms and all activities in the White House. The title also encompasses working 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.

Among the events organized by the usher are the State Dinner and the Easter egg roll.

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

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

The role was established in 1887.

Prior to the appointment, the First Lady was expected to run and maintain the residence.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian and professor of history at Rice University, said 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.”

“The Trump administration seems worried about Obama’s spies, and there may have been a feeling that she wasn’t on page with the Trumpians,” he added.

“The president has shown a disinterest in the protocol and mandates of history. I don’t think the fact that an usher goes from president to president would be something that he’s particularly worried about.”

Pointing to a festive Republican ceremony in the Rose Garden to celebrate the Republican health care plan passing the House on May 4 in which Trump spoke in front of a sea of largely white men, Brinkley noted that in some ways, the president is “strangely not worried about optics.”

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