Working with the Reagans

Adela Filiu Ferguson went to America to define her dream, clutching her midwifery diploma, an abiding faith in God, sheer guts and grim determination.

That day, on her date with destiny, a great traffic jam was giving her a cardiac arrest on her way to an interview with a possible employer.  Three blocks away from her destination, a burly secret service stopped her cab and asked, “are you Adela? Mrs. Reagan is waiting for you.”

Adela was interviewed and before she could blink, she was hired on the spot. Mrs. Reagan, who at that time needed household staff to fill her Bel-Air home, was impressed with Adela’s humble and gentle ways.

Now, they were meeting President Reagan for the first time.  The president strode towards the household staff and started shaking their hands.  His handshake was warm and his smile was drop dead gorgeous. As he loomed, Adela looked so small, although brimming with thrill and enthusiasm.  She thought he was the most handsome man in the whole world.  His eyes radiated such warmth, sincerity and charm.  She was looking eyeball to eyeball at the most popular president since World War II — the one who won 49 states in a landslide, representing all categories of voters. It was the same thought they shared, and their reverie was broken when Mrs. Reagan fired her now famous first order, “Honey, walk Rex” (the dog). The staff looked and smiled at each other.  They knew who would be the real Commander-in-Chief.  Life could be easy here at Bel-Air.

The first time Adela held the tray for the president, she was shaking like a leaf, and he leaned very kindly towards her, holding her trembling arms and said, “It is all right, Adela, you’re doing just fine. If you could just tell me what this is?”

She replied, “Shepherd’s pie, sir,” to which the president said, “But I can’t find the shepherd. Where is it?” The ice was broken and everyone broke into guffaws, including Mrs. Reagan.

Mrs. Reagan, who had a busier social life than the president, was in constant touch with her friends on the phone.  They left together every morning for their office in Fox Plaza in Century City.  Most of their mornings were spent quietly at home, a far cry from the White House life, where socials were more often seen in long limousines, rusting furs, ornate gowns and jewelry the size of cow droppings. After 20 years of public life, they needed to spend more time with family and friends, and with each other.

Usually the president was back by 5 pm and would change and go to the basement for his exercises.  He would pass through the kitchen, winking at Adela, and after his exercise, pass by the kitchen again and say, “Can I steal a cookie?” Oh, my pleasure, Sir!” would be Adela’s reply, who purposely kept the freshly baked cookies on the table, for everyone to taste.  They were more than delicious!

Their weekends were mostly spent at their Santa Barbara ranch and the president loved cleaning the pool. He cut the trees that block the pathway to the pool. During one of Adela’s birthdays, the president  gave her a pen and gold infant’s feet.  His words were “this is an appropriate time for me to give you.” To this day, they are among her most treasured possessions.  He also gave her all the empty bottles of every grand wine he opened for their VIP guests, knowing she collects them.  “This is for Adela!” he would announce.

Working with the Reagans, Adela met the Prime Minister of Canada, Princess Anne, Prince Albert, Barbara Walters, Tom Brokaw and former President and Mrs. Nixon. President Nixon drank tea but fell for her concoction of “special tea,” which was served during every Reagan meal. It was beyond her wildest dreams that they were not only sampling her recipes, she was actually serving them.

Sometime  President Reagan would surprise the staff by bringing down the coffee trays himself.  They were all treated like family members and the Secret Service reportedly said they’d never had such a warm relationship with any other president.

For Adela, working with the Reagans made her feel so honored and  humbled.  She was just in high school back home when she saw their pictures in the papers, during their visit as Gov. of California.  Now she was taking care of their meals and was there for their personal daily needs.

Her unsolicited advice?  “Do not ever underestimate your dreams in life.  Anything can happen if you believe…It means hard work.  Never doubt that you can do it with God’s help.  Remember you are never given a dream without also the power to make it come true.  If you seek what is good and honorable and offer genuine service, your life would truly improve. Working with the Reagans taught me so much.  I found out what was really important to me.  I grew and learned what service was all about.  I learned how, in spite of life’s everyday hassles and problems, that just go on being yourself and everything will fall into the right perspective.”

Note:  Mrs.  Ferguson is currently working at the Olympia Medical Center in Los Angeles, where she has been a consistent model employee. This story is the only interview she has ever given about the Reagans.

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