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Women Bisnow
February 14, 2008

First Lady's
First Adviser

This issue of Washington Women is presented by
Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"


By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

In her 13th Street office, Sheila Tate throws her hands up and admits it: She was the one who leaked that Bush 41 didn’t like broccoli. “I didn’t do it on purpose,” she says. “I was having lunch with Ken Walsh, a reporter from US News. He said, ‘I’m telling you, this Bush White House is so boring, there is nothing to write about.’ I had left broccoli on my plate and said, ‘I wonder if George Bush ever succeeded in getting broccoli banned?’ They had been serving him broccoli on Air Force One for years, and he said jokingly, ‘You’re ignoring me, I said no broccoli.’  Ken said, ‘Just to show you how boring the White House is, I think I’ll check out this broccoli story.’ That Monday I heard on the radio, ‘Bush bans broccoli.’


Who needs a Ken doll when you can have a talking George W. Bush action figure?


PR maven Sheila Tate has done a lot more than starting the broccoli revolution that had the good-natured Barbara Bush in plastic broccoli stalk earrings and local farmers delivering truckloads to the White House. Co-founder and vice chairman of Powell Tate, the DC area native served as Nancy Reagan’s Press Secretary from ’81 to ‘85 and as George Bush’s Press Secretary in ’88.


Sheila Tate in her well-accessorized office. Tate just came back from California where she was on a panel discussing the use of new media in high-profile litigation. ”I used the Duke lacrosse case because it was a blogger who turned it around.  Casey Johnson’s blog became the place to go. Ed Bradley from 60 Minutes got a hold of it and it took off from there.”


A month ago, Tate was in California with Nancy Reagan for the opening of an exhibit about the former First Lady at the Reagan library. “Nancy Reagan and I are friends to this day. She had a bit of a tough time with the press. It all seems so unimportant now. Things like ordering china and fashion,” says Tate whose words are featured in the exhibit over a display of Nancy Reagan’s infamous Gridiron dinner ensemble. “A year into the Reagan White House, she was getting lambasted about spending. We secretly arranged for her to appear at the Gridiron dinner dressed in cast-offs. She snuck off and the guy next to me whispers, ‘Nancy Reagan left the head table, she must be pissed.’ She came out from behind a rack of clothes and started singing “Second-hand Clothes,” to the tune of “Second-hand Rose,” dressed in a yellow peasant skirt, a feather boa and a wide-brimmed hat. People stood up stunned and started shouting before she even started singing. It was the most dramatic turnaround you’ve ever seen. People wrote, ‘she’s a human being, we’re going to give her another chance.’” Tate recalls that both she and Nancy Reagan had never been so nervous and President Reagan, who had no idea what was coming, almost fell off his chair.

After working in the Bush administration, Tate went back to PR, co-founding Powell Tate in ’91, where she has been ever since. Having recently worked on the Air Force Memorial, chaired by Ross Perot Jr., Tate is now working for the Army, planning a big anniversary for the Army Reserve.

Tate may be lobbying with Bush senior’s Chief of Staff, Jean Becker, to get him to stop jumping out of airplanes, but she is no stranger to danger. Tate went to Iraq six months after it began, which she says changed her whole perspective on the situation. “Iraqi people are very intelligent and in tune with what’s going on—you could tell they wanted some normalcy,” says Tate who stayed in Kuwait and took C-130s into Iraq. “I never felt in any real danger, I felt the media was overblowing it.”

She may not be strapping on a parachute anytime soon à la George H.W., but she would like to go back to Iraq. “I think I would go back to see how the country has changed. I would like to see the Kurdish section where they say everything is prosperous again.”

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