printed with permission from the A.V. Press – April 10, 2011
Bill Deaver’s Tribute to his Brother Mike
East Kern Report
BY BILL DEAVER
Remembering Mike Deaver
A couple weeks ago as I was driving to Desert High School at Edwards Air Force Base to attend a ceremony honing my late brother Michael K. Deaver, I glanced to my left as I drove down Highway 58 near the north entrance to the base.
On a sunny summer day in the mid-1950s, Mike was driving this same road when he happened to glance in the same direction and see an F-104 dive straight into the ground. He learned later that the pilot had punched-out and was safe, but the memory stayed with him as it has with me.
The ceremony at Desert High celebrated Mike’s induction into the school’s “Wall of Fame,” which honors DHS grads that have made significant achievements. The ceremony was something Mike would have been honored to attend.
As I told the students gathered in the “Scorpitorium,” Mike’s years at DHS were some of his happiest. He graduated in the Class of 1956, the school’s second senior class, and attended several class reunions, including one accompanied by a Secret Service detail when he was a member of the White House senior staff. To my recollection, Mike is the only Kern County and Antelope Valley resident who ever served on the White House staff.
April 11 is our family’s “birthday day,” because Mike, sister Susan, and Susan’s daughter Meg, were all born on that day in various years. (It’s also the day in 1981 that Ronald Reagan left George Washington University Hospital after being shot).
Mike and his colleagues in the Reagan White House are also in the news these days with the publication of an excellent book on that assassination attempt which occurred in the early days of his administration, “Rawhide Down,” by Washington Post Writer Del Quentin Wilber.
Mike got to know Reagan in the 1980s when he was one of several people assigned to develop GOP legislative candidates with the goal of taking over the California Legislature, which had been dominated by Democrats for years. That effort was successful because the candidates selected were moderates who could get things done, like the late Bill Ketchum, who went on to represent this area in Congress.
He was hired as a member of Reagan’s staff when the former actor was elected Governor, and ran Reagan’s operations in the years between serving as Governor and his election as President of the United States.
In the White House, Mike was a member of the “Troika” of Jim Baker and Ed Meese that comprised Reagan’s senior staff.
After graduating from Mojave Elementary School and Desert High School, Mike took a degree in public administration at San Jose State.
He worked for IBM in San Jose selling punch cards, which shows how long ago it was! He also played piano in a bar in San Jose, which billed him as “Michael Keith,” because the owner thought “Deaver” sounded “too country.”
When we were growing up our folks encouraged us to play the piano. It stuck with Mike and our sister Susan, but not with me. Both of them have gained a lot over the years tickling the ivories. Mike could hear a song once and play it forever.
At Desert High Mike ran for class offices, probably his first taste of politics. Unlike the rest of the family he never sought an elective office, preferring to help others with their campaigns.
Mike’s particular talent was in handling the news media, which gained him the moniker “Vicar of Video.”
Before Mike, politicians would stand in front of a podium and pontificate. Unless the message was really important or unusual, their messages would be muted if they were even covered at all.
Mike made Reagan’s appearances events. To illustrate a jump in home building, for example, he would take the President to a construction site, put a hard hat on him, and surround him with the guys building the houses.
A life-long entertainer who grew up poor, Reagan identified with just about everyone and it showed. The event would make the evening news in those pre-internet days.
Reagan was also underestimated by his political opponents, which worked to Reagan’s advantage. Mike said he never Reagan board an airplane without a stack of briefing papers, which to this day show his copious notes in the margins. He wrote his own radio scripts and extensively revised the speeches prepared by his staff.
Reagan’s entertainment background was quite evident when he was shot by Hinckley, (who is currently trying to get released).
As soon as he awoke from surgery, he peppered his nurses with notes since a breathing tube in his throat kept him from speaking.
The notes were full of jokes and one-liners, which amazed the nurses. When the breathing tube was finally removed he kept talking to the point that one of his exhausted nurses finally got him to go to sleep for a while!
During his years with the Reagans Mike got to know them as well as anyone. He had an especially close relationship with the First Lady, Nancy Reagan, who could be a handful at times.
Mike had two White House phone lines in his northwest Washington home, and they rang constantly during visits there. Fortunately, cell phones had not become ubiquitous in those days.
No life is perfect and Mike’s was no exception. He struggled with the family disease of alcoholism, which played a role in the trouble he found himself in after leaving the White House.
That led to an indictment from a Special Counsel and a conviction for perjury.
Interestingly, it also led to sobriety for the rest of his life, along with efforts to help others cope with alcoholism. His community service following the conviction was served helping men his own age at a Washington homeless shelter, and to spreading the word of Alcoholics Anonymous around the world, including trips to Russia before and after the Wall came down.
Mike spent the rest of his life running a Washington public relations firm, which took him around the globe. To pass the time during endless flights he read vociferously, sending Susan and I “care packages” of books every couple of months.
He also found time to write several books about his years with the Reagans.
As a person, Mike was fun to be around. He was an inveterate punner, and during a meeting with him and Lyn Nofziger I was in stitches the whole time. Susan’s kids inherited this talent, keeping us all laughing during a recent family gathering.
Sadly, Mike was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away August 18, 2007, at age 69 at his home in Maryland following a final trip to his beloved Lake Tahoe. At the lake, someone suggested a photo of he, Susan, and myself, one that we all knew would be the last of us together.
True to his calling, Mike organized the picture, with the blue lake, trees, and an American flag in the background.