In March 2009 died Leonore Annenberg, the society doyenne who was President Ronald Reagan’s first chief of protocol and who, with her late husband, the ambassador and publisher Walter H. Annenberg, gave away billions to philanthropic causes. She was 91.
Not long after his inauguration in 1981, Reagan nominated Leonore “Lee” Annenberg as his chief of protocol; it was a position on the rank with ambassador, requiring confirmation by the Senate, which sailed through on a 96-to-0 vote and rolled up her Bill Blass sleeves. ”It’s the first paying job I’ve ever had,” she joked, but invited diplomats to dinners at her own expense.
Unorthodox, superbly rich and headstrong, she was never a popular figure inside the White House, and a picture of her curtsying to the visiting Prince Charles at Andrews Air Force Base was later splashed across the front pages of hundreds of newspapers, with some commentators said it was unseemly in the republic which gained its independence by overthrowing the same dynasty Lee was curtsying to.
What made matters worse was a repeated curtsy, this time by Diana Vreeland, the former editor of Vogue and a longtime friend of the Reagans, at the private dinner for Prince Charles at the White House. Nancy Reagan was photographed next to Vreeland unfazed and smiling. The press went wild.
The British Consulate’s insistence that this was the correct form while meeting royalty didn’t help either. A few weeks later, on July 17th, when she met Prince Charles again at the Royal Ballet’s 50th Anniversary gala in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, Lee Anneberg decided not to curtsy again.
For the Annebergs, the last straw was a presidential trip to Egypt for the funeral of the assassinated president, Anwar El-Sadat. Normally, the protocol chief would have handled the arrangements, but they were taken over by the White House. Mrs. Annenberg resigned after 11 months in office, saying she wanted to spend more time with her husband.