At least one night a year, the House Sergeant-at-Arms commands a worldwide audience when he announces “Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States,” ahead of the State of the Union address.
For Bill Livingood, the House’s chief security officer, that moment in the spotlight is rare and brief — the way he likes it.
Livingood, reluctantly thrust into the news following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), personifies three decades of Secret Service experience, shunning publicity and giving infrequent interviews in favor of working quietly behind the scenes.
“He’s not very effusive,” said former Capitol Police Chief James Varey, who once served as Livingood’s deputy. “If you’ve had any dealings with the Secret Service, you know they’re not out there publicly in how they conduct their business.”
But the Philadelphia native’s understated and decidedly nonpartisan style, coupled with his unparalleled institutional knowledge, is the key to his longevity, Members and colleagues said. Since first being appointed in 1995 by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), he has weathered four Speakers, three presidents and two changes in majority control of the House, each time earning reappointment with bipartisan acclaim.
Now, Livingood is on the cusp of making history. At term’s end, he will be the second-longest-serving Sergeant-at-Arms in House history. Add another five and a half months and he will top the list, eclipsing the very first Sergeant-at-Arms, Joseph Wheaton.
The 75-year-old has given no indication he can’t hit that mark.
Patronage to State of the Art
Livingood energetically worked the room at a recent event in the Capitol Rotunda commemorating the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.
Greeting attendees and Kennedy relatives with the same warm smile he flashes when declining interviews (including one for this article), Livingood may have been reflecting on his first day in the Secret Service, Nov. 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated.
Livingood finished training earlier that morning and was assigned to Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s security detail. After shots rang out, he received orders to pick up and protect the younger of Johnson’s two daughters, Luci.
It would be the start of a 34-year career for the young agent, who had graduated just two years earlier with a police administration degree from Michigan State University.
“I always wanted to be a policeman,” he told Roll Call in 2005. “I had a feeling that police could help people and you could be doing this full time, helping people, not just here and there.”
He guarded several presidents, then joined management and helped train agents, finally becoming executive assistant to the agency’s director.