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More Inaugural Memories from Our Oral History Archives

Jimmy Carter Inauguration

Jimmy Carter’s Inauguration, January 20, 1977. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. PD.

One aide to George H.W. Bush called the Inaugural the “biggest day” of any commander in chief’s life.  Today we bring you some more inaugural memories from the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program archives. 

Max Friedersdorf, staff director for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, discussed how Jimmy Carter’s domestic policy advisor, Hamilton Jordon got in “deep do-do” with House Speaker Tip O’Neill  when he didn’t get the Speaker enough Inaugural Ball tickets in 1977:

Well, first thing that happened, they got in deep do-do with Speaker O’Neill and they never recovered the whole four years. Hamilton Jordan also got cross-wise with the Speaker. After a while, [Frank] Moore hired Bill Cable and Dan Tate, who were Hill people. Great guys, perfect, but they should’ve been brought in at the start. He didn’t hire anybody. He was just going to do it himself. He didn’t return a phone call from Tip O’Neill and he didn’t get him all the tickets he wanted for the inaugural and Tip never ever let him off the hook. He couldn’t get in Tip O’Neill’s office; he was barred. Congressional relations barred! So when we got up there we never had any contact with him whatsoever, none. In the two years, I never saw Frank Moore. And I don’t think any of the Republican Senators or staff—I think they’d tell you the same thing. I don’t know where they were. But I think that was part of Carter’s problem, obviously.

President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, discussed having President Carter sign off on a restricting of the national security team during an Inaugural gala: 

I sat down with him [Carter] one evening and we worked on a formula for two committees. One committee would be called PRC—Policy Review Committee, which would deal with long-range policy issues and would be chaired by a Secretary. Prior to each meeting, the notion was that I would submit a memo to Carter informing him that a PRC is to be held on such and such a topic and that I recommend that the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense chair it. You approve it. The other committee would be called SCC—Special Coordination Committee, and that would be for crosscutting interagency issues. I would chair that committee. The three crosscutting agency issues would be: covert activity, arms control, and price management. Carter loved that. I drew up with David Aaron, my deputy, a memorandum which we called presidential directive because we changed the names of the previous papers. I took it to the Kennedy Center, at the time of the presidential gala the evening before the inaugural, and during intermission got Carter out and had him sign it, and the next day at 3 p.m. right after the inaugural I had messengers deliver copies of it to Brown and to Vance and to whoever was acting before Turner to inform them of the new arrangements. They were surprised.

William H. Webster, FBI Director, recounted watching the 1981 inaugural parade:

I can mention one funny incident, at the inauguration. We were invited and we sat up in that upper area where officials sit during the inauguration. We had a great view of Pennsylvania Avenue from the FBI, and I had invited a number of people to come back and watch the parade from my office space on the seventh floor, including some of George Bush’s relatives, I’m trying to think who all they were. A lot of family people came up. But I needed to get back. So they’d arranged to get us in a car which was parked outside and head down Pennsylvania Avenue. Right alongside us was the young son… Young Ron, Ronnie. He didn’t have the right license plates. He was to be the first car in Pennsylvania Avenue and they wouldn’t let him go, he didn’t have the right license plates. That put our car first going down from Capitol Hill. My late wife, Drue, was wearing a red coat. The only other person wearing a red coat was Nancy Reagan. We were starting down, these people were looking in, Now who is this? They didn’t realize that Reagan had gone to have lunch with Congressmen. So yes, they started waving, so we started waving back. We had a wonderful time all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Charles Z. Wick, co-chairman of the 1981 Presidential Inaugural Committee discussed the magnitude of Reagan’s inaugural celebrations:

I’ll tell you, we had seven or eight ballrooms. It was almost historic in number. The only problem we had was we had too many people. The Fire Department—I had to talk them out of a couple of situations. I said, So it burns down. Just think how old that building is. No, we had their cooperation. They were just great. It was historic. We had seven bands, some of the greatest bands that were then current. I forget how much we grossed—some fantastic amount.

Richard Allen, assistant to President Reagan for National Security Affairs, noted Reagan’s first act after the inauguration – putting up a sign in the Oval Office with useful advice to his advisers: 

People always forget that that sign went onto the desk on the morning of January 21. Perhaps you know about that little sign? The first time he [Reagan] sat down in his office, at his desk, the night of the Inauguration, we’re still dressed in monkey suits, I guess had to go home and change, and the next morning I came in to give the national security briefing. There was nothing on the table except my briefing on his desk, which was [Calvin] Coolidge’s desk I think, and pictures of Nancy and the kids on the credenza behind. But up front there was a little brass plaque that was like that in the right hand corner and as he was reading through the briefing I read it and it said, There’s no limit to what a man can accomplish or how far he can go as long as he doesn’t mind who gets the credit. Which was a warning to all of us guys, in effect saying don’t you come in here trying to claim the credit for doing various things. I’m not the least bit interested. Some people read it and some people didn’t. I never commented to him about it, never said a word about it. It was there to be read. Don’t ask any question. Oh, what a cute sign. No, don’t ever do that. Just read it and observe. Guys like Al Haig never did. Guys like Cap Weinberger did. Made a difference.

Lyn Nofziger, assistant to the president for political affairs, discussed how Ronald Reagan made one last phone call from the Oval Office after George  H.W. Bush’s 1989 inauguration:

And the other thing I get kind of emotional about, after George Bush was inaugurated and Reagan went back to the Oval Office to get his last few things out of there, apparently Maureen [Reagan] was there, and she said to her dad, Did you know that Lyn’s daughter Susie is in the hospital? My older daughter died of lymph cancer a number of years ago. She said, Maybe you ought to give her a call or something. So he did. The last call he made from the Oval Office was looking for my daughter. He couldn’t find her because he was looking for Susan Nofziger, and her married name was Piland. But he did talk to Bonnie, I guess. That’s always meant a lot to me, that he would take the time at a time like that to go look for some kid he knew very casually.

Robert Tuttle, Ronald Reagan’s director Office of Presidential Personnel, discussed what it was like to no longer be 'King of the Hill' after President Bush’s inauguration:

I’ll tell you a funny story. This is what is so great about our country. I had a full pass, access to everything. My checking account is the White House credit union. The day after the inaugural of President Bush, I had to get some money. I come in the entrance, and I know these guys; I mean, I’d been in the building about six years. I knew the guards. I went out of my way to be friendly. They said, Mr. Tuttle, we’re sorry but you’re going to have to get cleared. You have to go call on the phone. I had to go call the credit union—and they apologized, It’s all right. I called the credit union, I said, I’ve got to come in. They took my social security number and cleared me in. So, one day you’re the king of the hill and the next day you are—

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