A former Secret Service agent is opening up about her experience as one of the first women on the presidential protection force.
Sue Ann Baker’s book, Behind the Shades, tells her story about landing a job as one of the first five female agents in 1971 — the first women, she says, in the Secret Service’s then-106-year history.
“I was the first ‘girl agent,’ as they called us back then,” Baker tells ITK.
While some of her male colleagues were “really helpful and taught us on-the-job training,” Baker says, “there were a lot of guys that clearly didn’t want us there.”
“When we first were brought into the White House police, the Executive Protective Service, first of all, they never thought to issue us uniforms,” Baker, 69, recounts. “So we really couldn’t do what the men did, you know, standing in the guard shacks around the White House, because no one would have ever acknowledged any of our authority because we’re standing there in skirts of varying lengths. No pants then.”
But the lack of a uniform didn’t prevent the Ohio native from protecting presidential candidate Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. George McGovern’s (S.D.) wife, Eleanor, or from being a part of some memorable incognito moments — such as the time she went undercover as a camp counselor for a then-teenaged Princess Caroline at a summer camp in the Poconos.
The young royal’s parents, Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly, “did not want to have protection for their daughter at the camp. They just wanted her to have an ordinary camping experience,” Baker says. Assigned as a counselor to teach swimming, Baker recalls with a laugh, “[Camp officials] gave me a Red Cross manual, and I would spend my nights under the covers with a flashlight reading and trying to stay ahead of who I was teaching.”
Baker says Princess Caroline, now 58, “doesn’t know, unless somebody tells her or she reads the book, to this day, that she was protected by anybody.”
And then there’s the time she acted as a decoy for President Nixon’s daughter, Tricia, on the first family member’s wedding day in 1971.
“They gave us a limo, and another male agent and I rode around the streets of Washington, D.C., trying to lure the press away from where they were really leaving so they could leave for their honeymoon.”
Wearing her hair in the same way the bride had styled it, Baker remembers, “I sat there and waved. I’m sure there are stories to this day of people who saw that, or saw me, saying, ‘Oh yes, we saw Tricia Nixon on her wedding day.”
Baker, who went on to a job as private investigator and later as a financial planner, is quick to defend the Secret Service when asked about recent security flaps.
“It’s really been less than 1 percent of the agency that has gotten into trouble,” she says of the breaches. Noting that 10 percent of the agency is now female, Baker exclaims, “I would also point out that none of those 20 or so agents were women. So maybe they just need to hire more women.”
The Oregon resident says, beyond a walk down memory lane, she hopes the self-published memoir will inspire women to “be fearless enough to grab unexpected opportunities, even if they’re not sure where it’s taking them.”
“Build your confidence by being pushed out of your comfort zone.”