ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Eugene Allen - A Life Lived in Service

Updated on November 1, 2016
Docmo profile image

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.

A Life in Service

On an otherwise uneventful Thursday the 9th of April, 2010 a crowd had gathered at the Great First Baptist Church, 13th Street, NW, Washington DC. It was the funeral of a humble man. The hundreds of people at the church listened to his extraordinary life - a life lived in quiet service. There was no pomp or splendour, no glory seeking, no irreverence or rebellion. There was no selling the story to the highest bidder, no kiss and tell, no bombastic autobiography. The man lay there, impeccable in his grey evening suit and a pair of pure white gloves. The only sign of history was a White House lapel pin. He was laid to rest at Rock Creek Cemetery in Petworth, close to his dear wife Helene who had passed on in 2008.

The man was Eugene Allen, who had served at the White House from 1952 to 1986. 34 years, 8 presidencies and a life that witnessed extraordinary change. He arrived at the White house during a time where he was not even allowed to use the public restrooms back in his native Virginia, due to racial segregation.

At his funeral there was a letter of tribute read out. It was from the first Black President.

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.
Eugene Allen, The Butler
Eugene Allen, The Butler

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

— Rabindranath Tagore
A
Virginia, US:
Virginia, USA

get directions

Virginia Boy

Born in 1919 and raised in Virginia during times of severe racial segregation, Eugene first worked as a waiter at the Homestead Resort in Hot springs. A diligent worker with a charming smile, he soon moved to a country club in Washington. In 1942 he met the lovely Helene at a birthday party and they married a year later.

Happy with his work, he wasn't looking for another job when someone told him of a vacancy at the White House. This was 1952. He went to meet the then Maitre D' Alonzo Fields who took an instant liking to Eugene and gave him a job as a pantry man - washing dishes and shining silverware. He was paid the princely sum of $2400 a year for this work. Harry S Truman was the President.

The only black people who worked at the White House were the back room staff. It wasn't until 1955 when Dwight Eisenhower was in power that Eugene was able to see a first Black person holding an official political position. It was Frederick E Morrow who worked as an administrative officer for special projects.


Dwight Eisenhower in discussion, Eugene at far right
Dwight Eisenhower in discussion, Eugene at far right

“Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.”

— Marian Wright Edelman
Eugene Allen, Front right
Eugene Allen, Front right

The Butler

Hard work and impeccable manners led to a promotion for Eugene. He became the Butler and wore a tuxedo every day. He watched John F Kennedy come to power and appoint Andrew Hatcher as Deputy Press secretary. Andrew the only black in an executive position at the White House in 1961. Eugene watched frayed nerves and high tension through the Cuban Missile crisis. He served tea and coffee and kept the service quietly ticking away in the background as the world came close to another war.

When Kennedy was assassinated, the heartbroken Eugene was invited to the funeral.

He politely declined, volunteering for other duty, knowing that someone had to be back at the house, ensuring all the guests were looked after and all preparations were done.

Lyndon B Johnson came to power after the tragedy. He was vocal about civil rights and desegregation. He even appointed a black man to the supreme Court. The only black in his executive staff was Clifford Alexander, serving as a National Security council advisor. Eugene was working in the background with quite efficiency, ensuring the service and the staff were at the pinnacle of excellence.

Johnson was followed by Nixon. Eugene served food and drinks and looked after the backroom staff. His humble figure flitted quietly hither and thither, efficient, honest and enduring. The Watergate scandal broke and Nixon left.

Forrest Whittaker as 'The Butler'
Forrest Whittaker as 'The Butler'
Eugene Allen ( 2nd from right)  with some of the other White House staff.
Eugene Allen ( 2nd from right) with some of the other White House staff.

The Promotion

When Gerald Ford assumed office, Eugene realised that the President and him shared the birthday. When the staff sang 'Happy Birthday' to the president, the latter reminded everyone that it was 'Gene's Brithday too'. The staff sang to the humble Butler, who perhaps thought about his birthdays growing up in the log cabin.

The Carters came next. Eugene saw the era of the Iran hostage crisis and the three mile island incident. He watched as the Presidents popularity wane as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

In 1980, Eugene was promoted to Maitre D'.

It was under that actor turned President, Ronald Reagan, that Eugene and Helene received the highest accolade ever given to a White House back room staff member. They were invited by Nancy Reagan to the state dinner given in honour of the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Eugene watched with pride as the staff plied him and Helene with the very champagne he had organised earlier.



Eugene Allen
Eugene Allen
Eugene Allen, arriving with his son
Eugene Allen, arriving with his son

Retirement

Eugene retired from service to a quiet life with his wife Helene in 1986. They watched as Colin Powell became the Secretary of State followed by Condoleeza Rice. They watched the news as Obama ran for President.

The legendary Washington Post reporter Will Haygood, ran a story on the eve of the Obama election. A story of a Butler who had watched and served from the inside, may yet see history being made from the outside. Helen and Eugene prayed for Obama, planned to go and vote together despite their fragile states.

Helen died in her sleep on the eve of the election after 65 years of marital harmony. The day after she died, grieving Eugene still went to vote for the man who would make history. Eugene regretted that Helene never got to see her dream come true.

Eugene was invited to the President's inauguration.

Forrest Whittaker as 'The Butler'
Forrest Whittaker as 'The Butler'

“Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

— Booker T. Washington

A Fitting End

A symbol of discretion and diligence, Eugene Allen was always the gentleman. A life lived in service, never forgetting his humble origins, never questioning the role he was born to deliver but yet quietly moving like a shadow through decades of history as a silent spectator.

When you see the limelight hogging minor celebrities quick to sell a story to the tabloids whenever they come into the orbit of another, think of the million stories Eugene could've told.

Stories of men who were elevated to a position of power beyond other men's wildest dreams. Stories of power, passion, pride, politics and peril.

Yet, there he lies peacefully at Rock Creek Cemetery, proudly wearing his lapel pin, having seen that it is not the colour of one's skin that decides their destiny but the colour of their integrity.

Mohan Kumar

(With thanks to the Washington Post Article by Will Haygood and the Obituaries of Eugene Allen in various News papers)

The Movie

The Washington post article by Will Haygood ' A Butler well served by the election' was the inspiration behind the forthcoming film by Lee Daniels ( Precious) starring Forrest Whittaker as the Butler Cecil Gaines (based on Eugene Allen) and Oprah Winfrey as his wife. It has an ensemble all star cast of Robin Williams as Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F Kennedy, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, John Cusack as Richard Nixon and Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B Johnson.

Eugene Allen July 14, 1919 - March 31, 2010
Eugene Allen July 14, 1919 - March 31, 2010

© 2013 Mohan Kumar

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      4 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      You write beautifully. Look forward to reading more hubs by you.

    • LKMore01 profile image

      LKMore01 

      5 years ago

      This was my amazing HUB discovery for the evening, Docmo. I am so pleased I found this article you painstainkingly researched. Thank you for sharing or for those unfamiliar with Eugene Allen, introducing us to this brilliant man. Peace to you, always.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      5 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I enjoyed this very much. It's great to receive this historical enlightenment and you've done a remarkable job. I will share this as I believe it should be read by all. Thank you my friend.~Audrey

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      An excellent hub showcasing a wonderful human being. Eugene was a great person in every way. Great write, voted up.

    • profile image

      Vickiw 

      5 years ago

      Congratulations, Mohan, on this special milestone! And to go with it, this very special Hub. I love this historical perspective on a real gentleman.. Have a great trip - stay in touch!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      5 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      What a perfectly inspirational write!..This was a pleasure to read, from start to finish.

      Doc, you've really done this wonderful story justice. I can't wait to see the movie. Voting up and sharing.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      5 years ago from south Florida

      What an inspirational tribute you have written, Mohan, to honor this very special man. I look forward to seeing the film, 'The Butler,' with that stellar cast. This tale merits an Up plus.

      Congratulations on your 200th hub.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Doc, this hub is as graceful and gentle as the man you honor. I am now looking forward to seeing the movie. I know nothing of this gentleman spirit other than what you have so eloquently portrayed in your milestone 200th hub.

      Well done, Doc!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Pig Sty....Amazing. You have taught me something brand new. Eugene was surely a loyal & dignified man, as well as honorable White House Staff member. I am impressed by the quiet, unassuming manner of this gentleman and quite pleased he has been given a public display of recognition & gratitude. I am eager to see the movie, based on the goodness of this man's life and career. I love Forest Whitaker, who co-stars with a stellar cast, in "The Butler."

      Speaking of Stars.....You never fail to teach and entertain, Docmo. UP+++

    • profile image

      Justsilvie 

      5 years ago

      You pick the best subjects to showcase your talent. Wonderful Hub. Voted up and shared!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      Do you ever get tired of being amazing? That's what you are you know. Picking Eugene Allen's life to celebrate your 200th hub is well, amazing!

      Joe Namath said, "When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things." I think that's you Mohan. You enjoy what you do and as a result you do it so well. This beautiful tribute to an honest, hardworking man is done to perfection. Not overdone, much like the man himself, but done with heart. You know of course, I now have to see this movie!

      Shared and pinned (on my board and awesome hubpages); then voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful, and interesting.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      What an amazing man! and I totally agree with you when you said in this day and age of people trying to be famous or celebs, he quietly and with dignity did his job through so many years and so much history, I for one will be watching this film, great hub Mohan, nell

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 

      5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Mohan (Docmo),

      What a wonderful 200th Hub! Congratulations on creating another masterpiece, my friend.

      Enjoy your well-deserved holiday in Florida!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      This is just the kind of true life account I love . . . that of a life of service!

      Thanks for such an amazing write on Eugene Allen. This is such an inspirational hub here, of one who deserves to be honored.

      Superb write here! The Butler will certainly be such a great movie to not be missed.

      Congrats on your 200th Hub!!! Wow!

      Voted up ++++ and sharing

      God bless, Faith Reaper

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Mohan,

      What a fitting, honorable and inspirational hub...congratulations on your milestone of 200th hub!

      Eugene Allen is the real deal, just like you. You wrote a comprehensive and thoughtful summarization of his life of service and quiet dignity.

      I will very much look forward to seeing The Butler. Thanks for this 'heads up'. Voted UP and UABI.

      Travel safely and have fun! Hugs, Maria

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)