Roseann Finucane Lawrence:
A finger on the pulse of the president

A rambling by Tom Knapp

Taking a man's blood pressure or administering an injection takes on a whole new meaning when he's the leader of the free world. For Roseann Finucane Lawrence of Lancaster, Pa., that was a fairly common occurrence in the early 1980s, when she served with two other nurses in the White House medical unit and treated President Reagan, Vice President Bush and their families on an almost daily basis. As the result of her service, Lawrence was recognized last month by Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, where she earned her credentials, as one of the school's "Top 100 Leaders."

The list, which marks the university's 100th anniversary, honors alumni who have made "a significant impact in the world of health care and nursing," according to a news release from the school. "It was a total surprise to me," Lawrence said Sunday.

Now retired and a stay-at-home mom, Lawrence is a private person who rarely speaks about her White House days. During a brief telephone interview Sunday, Lawrence said she served at the White House from 1981 to 1984 as an active-duty Navy nurse.

"It was a very exciting part of my career," she said. "I saw the president very regularly. I often saw Mrs. Reagan. The rest of his family didn't live at the White House with him then.''

Her duties included providing on-site and on-the-road medical care and arranging contingency medical care around the country and world as the president traveled.

Lawrence's term of duty began a month after the March 30, 1981, assassination attempt on President Reagan. "He had been shot, but he was mending quite well," Lawrence, then a lieutenant in the nurses corps, recalled.

The job got even busier when Reagan ran for re-election. "It was kind of grueling," she said. "You travel 17 to 18 days a month. The president was in the midst of a campaign."

The position was passed to another nurse in 1984 when Lawrence, then a newlywed, decided she would prefer a post with less travel. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I was incredibly fortunate to be selected," she said. "It's got to be the greatest privilege and honor you can have, to provide care to the commander in chief."

A 25-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserves, Lawrence retired from the military in 2001.

She said Reagan was more of a patient than a president when he was under her care. "You just treat him like you treat anybody else," she said. "I don't mean to say you weren't deferential to his position, but you wouldn't want to give him any different care than you would anyone else."

Others honored last month included Tennessee Commissioner of Health Susan Cooper, Tennessee Commissioner of Mental Health Virginia Trotter Betts, national nursing shortage expert Peter Buerhaus, international relief leader Carol Etherington, Vanderbilt University Medical Center executive chief nursing officer Marilyn Dubree and Vine Hill (Tenn.) Community Clinic co-founder Nancy Anness.

by Tom Knapp
13 November 2008