When Life Strikes the White House: Death, Scandal, Illness, and the Responsibilities of a President

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 until Wednesday, February 19, 2014 (7:00 PM – 8:45 PM)

American History TV on C-SPAN 3 will air our co-sponsored program,
“When Life Strikes the White House: Death, Scandal, Illness, and the Responsibilities of a President”
on Wednesday, March 19 at 7:00 p.m. (CDT).

You can also watch it online at www.c-span.org/history.


Americans demand much from their presidents. They practically require them to be superhuman no matter the circumstance: cool in moments of stress, compassionate in times of tragedy, steadfast in time of war. Yet they are also human, and sometimes, life strikes even the White House. Death can touch their family. They can fall ill.  Their personal judgment can lapse. Everyday citizens typically ride out in privacy such personal trials. A president does not have that option. They have a moral, legal, and most profoundly ethical responsibility to their office no matter what might be occurring in their private life. Indeed, at crucial points in the annals of the presidency, personal crises have affected a president’s ability to lead, and even altered the nation’s course. 

Agenda & Speakers

(Feb. 18)

Keynote Lecture by Richard Reeves

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (411 Elm Street, Dallas 75202)

Reeves_author_photo_ORIGINALJoin us as we kick off the symposium, “When Life Strikes the White House: Death, Scandal, Illness, and the Responsibilities of a President,” with a keynote lecture featuring syndicated columnist and lecturer, Richard Reeves. Reeves is currently a lecturer at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and is the author of President Kennedy: Profile of Power, one of the only Kennedy biographies that Jacqueline Onassis insisted her children read to learn about their father. At the time of the assassination, Reeves was a correspondent with the Newark Evening News in New Jersey. The lecture and subsequent symposium are presented in partnership with Southern Methodist University’s Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, the Center for Presidential History, the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.Tickets are $25 per person (separate registration required). Please register at http://www.jfk.org/go/events Members of the Tower Center Forum, please register at tower@smu.edu for free admission tickets.
(Feb. 19)

Panel Program

Bob Hope Theatre at The Owen Arts Center (SMU Campus, 6101 Bishop, Dallas 75205)


Welcome & Opening Remarks


Panel 1–Personal Crises and Public Responsibility

  • John Tyler (Mark Updegrove, Author)
  • Andrew Jackson (Daniel Feller, University of Tennessee, Knoxville)
  • Ronald Reagan (Kiron Skinner, Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Bill Clinton (William Chafe, Duke University)
  • Moderator: Rita Kirk, Cary M. Maguire Center Director

Panel 2– A Death in the Family

  • Franklin Pierce (Michael Holt, University of Virginia)
  • Abraham Lincoln (Michael Burlingame, University of Illinois, Springfield)
  • Calvin Coolidge (Amity Shlaes, George W. Bush Institute)
  • John F. Kennedy (David Nasaw, City University of New York)
  • Moderator: Talmage Boston, Tower Center Board

Boxed Lunch with the Archivists from the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum


Panel 3– Presidential Illness

  • Woodrow Wilson (Thomas Knock, Southern Methodist University)
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt (Frank Costigliola, University of Connecticut)
  • Richard Nixon (Jeremi Suri, University of Texas at Austin)
  • Lyndon B. Johnson (Randall Woods, University of Arkansas)
  • Moderator: Dennis Simon, Tower Center Senior Fellow

Capstone Presentation by Karen Hughes

George W. Bush Institute Auditorium (2943 SMU Blvd., Dallas 75205)

Ambassador Karen Hughes

Counselor to the President, 2001-2002
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, 2005-2007
Global Vice Chair, Burson-Marsteller

karenQAKaren Hughes is a trusted counselor to corporate, nonprofit and political leaders providing strategic communications, corporate positioning and messaging advice. Since joining Burson-Marsteller in 2008, she has brought to the business world her unique expertise honed over more than 30 years of public policy, communications and political experience, from helping lead winning presidential campaigns to serving at the highest levels of government. At Burson, she has worked with clients as diverse as AVON Products, Inc., Ford, Johnson & Johnson, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, LIVESTRONG and the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Hughes reached out on behalf of the United States to audiences across the world as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from 2005-2007. Hughes dramatically reshaped the State Department’s communications efforts, rebuilt an agency demoralized by years of budget cuts, launched a new focus on America’s “diplomacy of deeds” and made public diplomacy central in the development of foreign policy.

Call (214) 768-3210 or email CPHinfo@smu.edu for questions and more information.

This event is held in partnership with:

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