By ADAM CLYMER
New York Times
Published: August 19, 2007
Michael K. Deaver, who arranged some of Ronald Reagan’s most memorable photographic backdrops for public consumption and privately gave the president blunt, sometimes contrarian advice, died yesterday at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 69.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his family said.
Mr. Deaver was widely known for creating photo ops that showed Reagan atop the Great Wall of China, at the cliffs of Normandy and filling sandbags to show concern after a Louisiana flood. And he played a central role in planning Reagan’s funeral in 2004; the last visual was burial as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
Less well known was that he was “one of the people who would speak up to Reagan,” said Lou Cannon, Reagan’s biographer.
Richard Wirthlin, Reagan’s pollster, agreed, saying, “Over the years, Reagan knew that Mike wouldn’t counter him unless it was very important.” That gave Mr. Deaver’s advice special weight, Mr. Wirthlin said.
Mr. Deaver worked for Reagan in one capacity or another from 1967 to 1985, but after he left the White House in 1985, his income soared and then his reputation plummeted.
He formed a hugely successful lobbying firm, Michael K. Deaver & Associates, whose clients included Canada, South Korea, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, TWA and Philip Morris. He posed for the cover of Time in 1986, sitting in the back seat of a limousine with a telephone at his ear, the Capitol in the background.
But the accompanying story was headlined “Cashing In on Top Connections,” and in 1987 he was convicted on three counts of perjury for lying to a House subcommittee and a federal grand jury about efforts to use the White House in his lobbying efforts.
Mr. Deaver, who blamed alcoholism for a faulty memory of events and bad judgment, was fined $100,000 and given a suspended three-year prison sentence and probation.
Reagan’s diary, published this summer, made it clear that just before leaving office in 1989 he considered pardoning his old friend, “but Mike has passed the word that he won’t accept a pardon.”
The terms of Mr. Deaver's probation barred him from lobbying for three years. In 1992 he joined Edelman International, a global public relations firm, where he was a vice chairman.
Mr. Deaver, a Republican official in Santa Clara County, joined Reagan’s staff in the governor’s office in Sacramento in 1967, after working for George Christopher’s campaign against him in the 1966 Republican primary.
He served through two four-year terms, and remained close after Reagan left office by forming a public relations firm with Peter Hannaford that handled Reagan’s appearances, columns and broadcasts. He then worked on Reagan’s unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign and its successful sequel in 1980. He was deputy chief of staff in the White House from 1981 to 1985.
In that position, he was nominally under James A. Baker III, the chief of staff. But his long friendship with both the president and Nancy Reagan gave him a unique place in the administration, as someone who could explain them to comparative newcomers — like Mr. Baker or George P. Shultz, the president’s second secretary of state.
But as an ally of Mr. Baker, he was sometimes accused by conservatives of drawing Reagan away from his roots on the right. And in October 1983, when Mr. Baker sought to move from the chief of staff job to the position of national security adviser, with Mr. Deaver advancing to chief of staff, conservative opponents blocked the change, which some of them called a coup. “Jim took it well but Mike was pretty upset,” Reagan’s diary said. “It was an unhappy day all around.”
An earlier entry in that diary, for New Year’s Day 1983, reflected Mr. Deaver’s familiar role. “Mike D. proposed and I agreed to go by the La. floods on the way home” from California, Reagan wrote. He added: “Set down at Monroe, La. It really is devastated by the floods but the people were out in droves and their spirits are high. I shoveled a few sandbags for the cameramen.”
Edwin Meese III, a Reagan ally from Sacramento who became his attorney general, told The Associated Press yesterday that “Mike had an amazing way to understand how people would respond, and he had a great way of helping Ronald Reagan get his message cross to the public.”
But on one occasion, Mr. Deaver’s advice and advance work failed Reagan. That was a visit to a German military cemetery in Bitburg in 1985, where 49 of Hitler’s elite SS troops were buried. Many Jewish leaders were furious, but Reagan would not alter the schedule, so Mr. Deaver added a stop at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Mr. Deaver said too much was made of his work in burnishing Reagan’s image. “I’ve always said the only thing I did was light him well,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 2001. “My job was filling up the space around the head. I didn’t make Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan made me.”
Mr. Cannon, the biographer, who had known Mr. Deaver from his days in Sacramento, said: “There were a lot of people who could do backdrops. He was an important player.” Next to Mrs. Reagan and Mr. Meese, Mr. Cannon said, Mr. Deaver “was as important as anybody” in aiding Reagan’s political career.
Mr. Deaver, who was born in Bakersfield, Calif., on April 11, 1938, and graduated from San Jose State College, is survived by his wife, Carolyn; a daughter, Amanda Deaver of Washington; a son, Blair, of Bend, Ore.; three grandchildren; a sister, Susan Wiggins of Tehachapi, Calif.; and a brother, William, of Mojave, Calif.
Tributes came in from co-workers and from the White House. But a singular message came from Henry Pierce, executive director of Clean and Sober Streets, a substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation program in downtown Washington on whose board Mr. Deaver served as chairman for 16 years.
“Every Christmas Eve without fail, Mike would show up, serve dinner to the residents and their families, play the piano and lead the Christmas carol singing,” Mr. Pierce said. “He would be on hand for every graduation ceremony, and helped place many of them in their first real jobs. He saw the potential in each one of us, and gave his heart to the individual as well as the program.”