When This Presidential Aide Talks Shop, It’s With a Gift for When Price Is Right
No dignitary who comes to the White House leaves without some little gift to mark the occasion.
Likewise, when the President wends his way through the capitals of the world he strews the official landscape with mementos of his passing.
No matter how big or how small, the selection of those tokens is no casual matter. In fact, the nation has a designated chief shopper and it is her job to browse in the stores, take a look at the latest crafts and scout the best prices for presidential gifts.
This professional shopper would prefer not to see her name in print.
“Why, she’d have all sorts of people sending her things they’ve made, or the names of relatives who make things,” said U.S. Chief of Protocol Selwa Roosevelt, under whose auspices the gift officer works.
Says the officer herself: “People would think this is a frivolous job. It’s not. There is a lot of record-keeping and paper work involved.”
There is also a lot of secrecy. Not because the information is classified, but because it would be rude to say too much. “Yes, we have a budget,” the officer says. “But no, I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t you think it would be rude to tell people how much we paid for their gifts?”
Assures Roosevelt, however: “We always buy wholesale. We never pay retail prices.”
Has to Do With Courtesy
Indeed, the hundred or so gifts procured by the gift officer each year typically have more to do with courtesy than national interest--even if it’s a little something for those pesky Russians.
“We don’t try to make distinctions,” Roosvelt said. “We try to observe the good manners of a guest. Most of our things are about at the same level (of price).”
She lists additional requirements for gifts as: “It must be made in America. And we like it to show something about us, our craftsmanship, design, traditions.”
For instance, when President Reagan visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican this summer he gave the Pope a vase from Steuben Glass in New York that was etched with the Pope’s family coat-of-arms. The least expensive piece of Steuben glass, a palm-sized ovoid “hand cooler,” retails for $125, and prices for more elaborate pieces range up to $175,000.
When Reagan visited Berlin on the same trip, he gave the city a crystal sculpture created by craftsman Peter Yenoway.
Given Golf Clubs
When Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone of Japan, an avid golfer, visited the United States recently he was given a set of special clubs by the President. First lady Nancy Reagan is known to give American-made quilts to her counterparts abroad.
Gifts range in value from the very elegant to the very simple, depending on the occasion and the rank of the dignitary.
Picture books of U.S. parks or scenes of Washington are popular lesser gifts. So, too, are autographed pictures of the President or first lady.
Although the gift officer annually goes on a shopping trip to New York and will browse through stores wherever she goes in the country, the presents themselves are purchased direct from manufacturers or craftsmen.
Roosevelt said each of the people--the President, vice president, secretary of state and their wives--for whom gift officer shops have types of gifts they like to give. But, she would not be specific.
“Would you like to know that a lot of people are getting the same gift you’re getting?” she said. “Besides, would you like to know in advance what you’re getting?”
To make sure no one gets the same gift twice, however, the gift officer keeps meticulous computer records dating back to the Harry S. Truman Administration of who got what and when.