BETHESDA, MD—Michael Deaver, a close adviser to Ronald Reagan who choreographed many of the most symbolic events of his presidency, and for the past 15 years a senior executive in the Washington, D.C., operations of Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, died this weekend at his home in Bethesda., Md. Over the past several months, Deaver had been battling pancreatic cancer.
Deaver was an advisor to both Reagan’s presidential campaigns, and served as deputy chief of staff during the President’s first term, viewed along with advisors Edwin Meese and James Baker as one of “the troika” that managed the presidency. His particular expertise was in protecting Reagan’s image and for staging a number of successful events, the most famous of which was Reagan’s visit to the beaches of Normandy, in France, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II. Deaver arranged for Mr. Reagan to appear on a cliff overlooking the English Channel and address D-Day veterans.
“We remember the Reagan presidency through those stunning visuals,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “Image by image, Deaver took memorable visuals and paired them with memorable language.” Deaver, for his part, told the Los Angeles Times in 2001: “I’ve always said the only thing I did is light him well. My job was filling up the space around the head. I didn’t make Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan made me.”
But after leaving the White House in 1985 to form his own consulting firm, Deaver encountered several difficulties. He was the subject, in 1986, of a Time magazine cover story that pictured him in the back seat of a limousine with a car phone pressed to his ear and the Capitol dome visible in the background, becoming an icon of the “revolving door” between the administration and the lobbying business. It was a stunning error in judgment for someone who had managed others’ images with such a deft touch.
After the appointment of an independent counsel, Deaver was convicted of three counts of perjury and sentenced to 1,500 hours of community service and a $100,000 fine. He insisted he was innocent and that his faulty memory when answering questions stemmed from alcoholism. He had entered rehab in 1986, and he fulfilled his community service at Clean and Sober Streets, a shelter and rehab center for homeless addicts in downtown Washington, with which remained actively involved for the next 20 years.
Deaver was born in 1938 in Bakersfield, Cal., to Paul, who worked with Shell Oil, and Marian, a reporter for the local paper in Mojave. He graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in political science and public administration and worked in sales for IBM before being hired in 1965 as field representative for California Republican Party. A year later he met Reagan for the first time, working on his transition team after he was elected Governor. In 1967, he joined Reagan’s gubernatorial staff as an assistant cabinet secretary and then as deputy chief of staff.
When Reagan’s governorship concluded in 1975, Deaver joined forces with Peter Hannaford to launch Deaver & Hannaford. He worked with Reagan’s second presidential campaign until an internal dispute with senior campaign staff led to his departure, but rejoined the campaign in 1980 and worked on the transition team after Reagan’s election.
In 1992, Deaver joined international public relations firm Edelman as executive vice president in its Washington, D.C. office. In 1995, he was promoted to vice chairman, international, and director of corporate affairs for the Washington office, while continuing to advise the Republican National Convention and writing books on his years with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. In 2006, following the departure of Leslie Dach to lead corporate affairs at Wal-Mart, Deaver became chairman of the D.C. office.
In a statement, Edelman said: “Mike Deaver was a giant in our field. His professional career spanned five decades, on behalf of heads of state and captains of industry around the world. He will be remembered for countless contributions to the art of communications, and for his years of service to our country in the stead of his longtime friend and boss, President Ronald Reagan.
“For the past 15 years we had the tremendous fortune of knowing Mike as one of our family members at Edelman. He sat at the head of the table here in the Washington office, and was a beloved and deeply valued colleague to our agency friends around the world. From the moment he joined Edelman in the spring of 1992 he changed the way we were perceived by the outside world and how we felt about ourselves. He immediately elevated our standing in the public affairs arena and gave us instant credibility, enabling us to take on the toughest public relations challenges.
“For all of these reasons, Mike Deaver was viewed as the wisest of the wise men, and all of his colleagues and clients marveled at, and benefited from, his counsel. In our profession, one which he took great pride in being part of, he was and will always remain the master.”
Nancy Reagan, meanwhile, said in a statement that: “Mike was the closest of friends to both Ronnie and me in many ways, and he was like a son to Ronnie. Our lives were so blessed by his love and friendship for over forty years. We met great challenges together, not just in Sacramento during Ronnie’s years as Governor, but certainly during our time at the White House. I will miss Mike terribly.”
Deaver is survived by his wife, Carolyn, who he met when the both worked in the Reagan administration in Sacramento; children Amanda Deaver of Washington D.C., and Blair Deaver of Bend, Ore.; sister Susan Wiggins; brother William Deaver; and three grandchildren. Services will be held after Labor Day. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to Clean & Sober Streets (P.O. Box 77114 Washington, DC 20013), Community Hospices (3720 Upton Street, NW, Washington, DC 20016) and Father Martin’s Ashley (www.fathermartinsashley.com).