From state dinners to celebrity visits, a Holly Springs native with a penchant for decorating finds his niche planning events of all kinds at the White House.
Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Truth be told, Everette Stubbs likely acquired his love of decorating and planning events of all sizes from his mother and his grandmother. The 44-year-old Stubbs grew up in a historic Holly Springs home where entertaining was as natural as breathing.
“My parents were always entertaining, and my grandmother did the flowers for church, and I would go along and watch,” Stubbs said. “When I got older, I helped her.”
The Stubbs’ home was often a part of the Holly Springs pilgrimage, so Stubbs grew up with a front-row seat to all the preparations. Still, an initial career choice led
him far away from the world of decorating and special event planning. But that career was short-lived.
“After I graduated from Ole Miss, I moved to Houston, Texas, and planned on attending law school,” Stubbs said. “I hated it.”
Serendipitously, his godmother, Sheila Leslie, who’d been Stubbs’ mother’s roommate at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, helped him get his first job in the nation’s capital.
“She worked in the White House during the Reagan administration,” Stubbs said. “My first job in D.C. was working for Jim Nicholson, who was chairman of the
Republican National Committee and later ambassador to the Vatican and Secretary of Veterans Affairs.”
It’s a wonder Stubbs did not proceed on a path toward politics, but that’s not where his interests lay.
His first White House job was Deputy Director of the Office of Presidential
Messages, and he was later promoted to director. In this office, he and others wrote official messages from the President.
“As you can imagine, the President is invited to thousands of events each year and can’t attend all, so he sends a surrogate,” Stubbs said. “For example, if a new embassy opened somewhere in the world, the President would send a message to be read in his absence by the ambassador.”
Later, Stubbs became Deputy Director of the White House Visitors Office.
If Stubbs had to choose a favorite White House job, this would be the one. His office was in the East Wing of the White House with the first lady’s office, where all manner of events, tours and celebrity visits were coordinated.
In his capacity in the Visitors Office, Stubbs worked long hours planning lots of White House-sized events, like the annual Easter Egg Roll, which had 30,000 in attendance. Stubbs’ vocal tone brightens as he talks of the huge undertakings he helped make happen.
“These were events with a lot of fanfare,” he said. “I loved planning the celebrity (and) VIP tours, but I also loved events involving the Make-A-Wish organization, the Gold Star Families, Super Bowl winners. I met a gazillion celebrities.”
Sure, it’s a bit of hyperbole, but when Stubbs starts listing the famous folks he met during the course of his White House job, it’s impossible not to seem slightly starstruck.
“Reese Witherspoon, Leonardo DiCaprio, John Legend, Tiger Woods, Beyoncé, Bon Jovi, Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lopez, Jonas Brothers,
Kevin Bacon, Josh Groban, Joan Rivers, Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, Paul Rudd, Jimmy
Buffet, Bob Dillon, Paul McCartney” — and Stubbs is only getting warmed up.
Other events that were a part of Stubbs’ to-do list during his White House tenure include state dinners, state arrival ceremonies and holiday open houses, for which he was free to propose design themes to the first lady, but the decorating was handled by others.
Stubbs’ years at the White House provided him with some favorite memories, a few of which included members of his Mississippi family. The coolest thing for him, he said, was flying on Air Force One. He was able to invite his parents, grandmother and other family members to accompany him to White House Christmas parties. And he arranged for his brother to propose to his now-wife in the Rose Garden.
But perhaps Stubbs’ most special recollection is of an encounter with first lady Laura Bush at the end of her husband’s presidency.
“Just days before they moved out of the White House, first lady Laura Bush told me she was happy to have heard the Obamas had asked me to stay on,” Stubbs said.
And they had. When President Barack Obama and his family transitioned into the White House in 2009, Stubbs met with Obama’s social secretary, who asked him to stay on, which he did for Obama’s first year. He eventually accepted a job outside the White House, but he is still based in D.C., planning events all over the country for Deloitte.
Thanks to COVID-19 and to appease his family, Stubbs returned to Mississippi to ride out the pandemic. He’ll return to Washington at some point, but for now, he’s staying with his brother in Oxford.
Stubbs said he misses his time working in the White House.
“There’s something special about the White House, and the friendships and connections made there,” he said. “It’s like an underground city of chefs, pastry chefs, butlers, carpenters, grounds people, kitchen staff — some who have worked there 40 or 50 years. Working there was like having a bird’s-eye view of history.”
One thing about his work at the White House Stubbs doesn’t miss?
“There is no room for error or mistakes,” he said. “If you messed up, it could be on the national news.”
Special thanks to Everette Stubbs for contributing the White House photos used with this story, and for staging the custom holiday decorations in the home of Ellis and Lee Ann Stubbs, pictured throughout this story.