Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sue Vogelsinger Recalls Her Years in the White House and Washington, D.C.

Sue Vogelsinger first learned of her boss’s death while reviewing one of his upcoming speeches. The place was Dallas. The date was Nov. 22, 1963. Her boss was President John F. Kennedy.

“My colleague, Chris Camp, and I were working on speech copy for the next stop. We were on Air Force One in (Kennedy’s) cabin when one of the stewards came through and said to pack up,” said Vogelsinger, a Sagle, Idaho, resident who served as a member of Kennedy’s press staff.

Decades later Vogelsinger smiles as she remembers the man she calls physically awe-inspiring, quick-witted and a man who truly loved his job.

“Being around President Kennedy was exhilarating,” said Vogelsinger.

After graduating from Penn State, Vogelsinger’s goal was to earn money so she could move to California.

She first worked for a Florida senator until November 1958, when she was hired by the Kennedy campaign to work with press secretary Pierre Salinger.

“I chose to work for Salinger on the theory that working with him would involve travel,” said Vogelsinger. And she was right.

After a successful campaign, Vogelsinger worked on the transition team.

“My final duty the night before the inauguration was to take a copy of President Kennedy’s inaugural address to President (Harry) Truman,” said Vogelsinger. “Much to my surprise I was able to go right up to his (hotel) room and knock on the door.”

Truman opened the door in his bedroom slippers and invited her in to meet Bess. Later that night, Vogelsinger was hospitalized for exhaustion and missed the inauguration and the ball.

During Kennedy’s administration Vogelsinger traveled extensively with the president and was in Ireland with him for the Kennedys’ emotional return to the home of their ancestors.

With a press staff of only eight, the days were long and draining – especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis and other such times.

“But you really did not care because it was so exciting and so exhilarating,” said Vogelsinger.

After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson chose to keep Kennedy’s staff. Vogelsinger said many felt they could not do a good job for Johnson – their hearts weren’t in it. She left the White House in April 1964 to assist Salinger in his campaign to be a senator from California.

Married by this time to Bruce – who happens to be a Republican – she returned to Washington, D.C., and became pregnant with twin girls, Sera and Julia.

But a love for the Kennedys and politics led Vogelsinger back into part-time work for Robert Kennedy, opening and answering his personal mail. Vogelsinger was at home in Virginia when she received the call that Robert Kennedy had been killed.

“I worked on helping get that funeral together, too,” said Vogelsinger.

Over the years, Vogelsinger worked with several other political figures, including George and Eleanor McGovern, Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Hillary Clinton.

During Ted Kennedy’s 1980 campaign Vogelsinger was in charge of scheduling for the Kennedy wives, sisters and 29 grandkids.

“Teddy used to call me the saint,” said Vogelsinger.

She worked on President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural committee, and in 1986 she and a friend opened a media relations firm. Vogelsinger was pulled back in to the political scene by the desire to work closely with White House staff when President Bill Clinton was elected. She volunteered her time and worked closely with the first lady.

One of her favorite projects was her involvement with the promotion of Hillary Clinton’s first book, “It Takes a Village,” as a liaison between the White House and the book’s publisher.

Vogelsinger has admiration for Hillary Clinton; even through all the scandals of Monica Lewinski and the Whitewater investigations, Hillary Clinton amazed her, she said.

“She kept in amazingly good spirits,” said Vogelsinger.

Of all her years working with so many administrations, Vogelsinger said the biggest public misconception was that of Hillary Clinton.

Vogelsinger adds that her observations of both Clintons were of a couple very devoted to one another. “They were very warm and affectionate with each other. You could certainly tell they cared deeply about each other.”

Vogelsinger and her husband’s desire to be close to their daughters, who live in Sandpoint, precipitated a move from Washington, D.C.

“Politics has gotten so mean and vicious that I do not miss what it would be like today,” said Vogelsinger. “But I do miss what it was.”

The couple spent New Year’s Eve 1999 at the White House and shortly thereafter moved to Idaho.

“It was a good way to end my political career,” she said.

In four decades in Washington, D.C., Vogelsinger said one experience always took her breath away.

“I had to pinch myself each time I took off in the helicopter from the White House lawn sitting with the president of the United States,” she said.