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Eddie Serrano: 22 years in the White House

Not too many people knew him or had heard about him, but Eddie Francisco Serrano of Gapan, Nueva Ecija, served as one of the executive staff of the White House for 22 years, beginning in 1971 when he was appointed its assistant presidential food service coordinator. I was fortunate when he invited me and my wife to visit the White House in 1986 after we attended the International Congress of Pediatrics in Honolulu. We dropped by his well-appointed office after our White House tour and had lunch prepared for us in the Executive Dining Room, an unforgettable experience for us. We were later escorted to Arlington National Cemetery, riding in one of the black SUVs, complete with a basket of delicious sandwiches from the White House mess.

Kuya Eddie, as I called him, enlisted in the US Navy in 1946, right after Liberation. Aside from Americans, only Filipinos were allowed to join the US navy at that time. His naval career took him to San Diego, Hawaii, Japan, Norfolk, and the Clark air base in the Philippines. Because of his exemplary service, he was selected as master chief of the White House Mess in 1965, which brought the Serrano family, composed of his wife Andrelina and children Edmond, Ronnie, and Janice, to Washington, DC. The family would later settle down in Oxon Hill, Maryland, where life was a bit slower and conducive to raise their three young children.

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While serving my fellowship at Harvard Medical School in the late ‘60s, I would hie off by plane or Greyhound bus on long holidays to their place, where I was always welcome to stay. I would never forget the surprise farewell party Kuya Eddie cooked up before I departed for the Philippines in 1969. He and his wife, Ate Andrelina, baked a cake for me and brought home flowers from the White House (they change flowers in the mansion on a daily basis) and invited a few close friends of mine to their place.

Kuya Eddie took great pride in his White House service. He supported all presidential events, traveling with President Richard Nixon to China and going to Key Biscayne and San Clemente with the First Family for holidays and vacations. He often jogged with President Jimmy Carter and was at Camp David in Maryland when the peace agreement was signed between Israel and Egypt. In state banquets in foreign lands, Eddie would be inconspicuously among the dignitaries in the hall. The president would wait for him to give the secret signal if the food served was safe to eat. On foreign trips, he would be in charge of a back-up plane packed with all the food and items needed by the president during the trip and manned by Eddie’s kitchen staff.

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He was closest to the Reagans among the US presidents he served. He did the honors of presenting President Ronald Reagan with a cake on his 70th birthday right inside the Oval Office. Nancy Reagan personally asked him to be with Reagan when the latter was shot by an assassin in 1981, to support the latter’s recovery. He was mentioned fondly in Reagan’s official biography, and even in his retirement, Eddie would get calls from former first lady Nancy just inquiring how he was doing.

After serving six presidents, Eddie finally retired in 1993, giving him time to pursue his favorite activities of fishing, crabbing, watching Western movies, gardening, and cooking in their retirement home in Hudson, Florida. He cherished spending time with his family. His cooking and storytelling skills made every gathering special. He brought joy to every life he touched, and will be greatly missed by all who knew him. He passed on quietly on June 18, 2020, at the age of 92. An American patriot, his body will eventually be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Floriño A. Francisco, 81, is a retired pediatrician, a TOPICS (The Outstanding Physician in Community Service) awardee in 2000, and a freelance feature writer based in Cabanatuan City.

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TAGS: Eddie Serrano, navy, Philippines, US, White House
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