I have been to the president’s office in the White House on five occasions during the administrations of Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan. When I entered the Oval Office, it was always from the main corridor in the West Wing and the door to the left of the office’s white Neoclassic fireplace—never from the secretary’s office on the right. The solid, heavy door is opened only by a non-uniformed Secret Service Agent stationed there 24 hours a day. Nobody puts their hand on that brass knob but the agent.

It was an honor to walk over the striking floor carpet with the monochromatic Seal of the President, featuring depths of cut pile, directly at the center of the Oval. One should never stand on the seal for long but cross over respectfully. Embellishing the ceiling is an unpretentious white on a white medallion of the presidential seal circled by 50 eight-point stars.

Opulent to a degree, the president’s office affords comfortable splendor with historical relevance. The chamber is nothing compared to the palace offices and throne rooms of England, Europe and Russia. Chiefly, there are no regal mirrors, weighty gilded ceilings or solid stone columns.

The three large windows behind the president’s desk, facing south, are 11-feet tall. Each contains 18 individual window glass panes. I noticed three massive blocks of what appeared to be thick ballistic-proof glass tinted light yellow. They were mounted on the floor against the three windows and seemed out of place until I recalled who occupied that chair at the desk. Today, these massive slabs have been removed, and the windows themselves refitted with a blast-proof material of classified thickness and strength.

Outside the windows are evergreens and various species of trees. The Kennedys planted them in early 1962, forming a barrier to securing the office from outside public scrutiny. Inside, bouquets of fresh flowers are placed at various locations daily.

The floor has pressure pads so the Secret Service can continuously monitor where the president is from their command center directly below the office. When moved, minor artifacts on the desk can alert agents to enter the office immediately from the Rose Garden Portico glass door or the main corridor. The room is swept for electronic devices daily by deft, silent technicians when the president is not occupying the office.

There is no “secret” trap door on the office floor. There are tunnels under the White House, most of which are not secret. Air in the complex runs through intricate filtering systems, and water has a unique chemical processing plant to make it pure.

On the west side of the Oval, there is a lavatory, kitchenette and private study along with a dining room. Multiple televisions are there with the best cable package money can buy. People tell me I am wrong about the following factoid. But I stand by my sources. If the president uses the toilet, an armed Secret Service Agent is always with the executive. An agent accompanies the president for all medical physicals and surgical procedures, no matter how personal the assessment may be.

To memorialize my time in the Oval Office, I received a set of presidential cuff links designed by each Commander in Chief. Some are more colorful than others. They sit in their presentation cases on my desk today. Periodically, I’ll wear a pair on a special occasion. They provide a grand and celebrated memory of my life’s Washington years. Occasionally, with daydream musings, I indulge those times in the Oval Office, recalling the different shades of color each president chose for the Great Seal, always observing, never beside it and never hovering over the impressive eagle.


Subscribe to stay connected to Tucson. A subscription helps you access more of the local stories that keep you connected to the community.

Award-winning writer, Jerry Wilkerson, lives in SaddleBrooke. He is a former press secretary for two U.S. Congressmen and a prior WBBM CBS NewsRadio Chicago and Chicago Daily News correspondent. He is a retired police commissioner and Navy veteran. Email: franchise@att.net.