Philomena Jurey’s A Basement Seat to History: Tales Covering Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan for the Voice of America is an account of life on the road with four commanders-in-chief. In her 28 years with Voice of America, Jurey went from news writer to editor in chief, and spent much of her time waiting for news to break in and around the Oval Office; because her voice was broadcast in her reports, she became a radio personality overseas but remained virtually unknown domestically. After retiring in 1989, she set to the task of chronicling her assignments: “I saved the [radio] scripts,” she says, “and that was why I was able to quote from them extensively.”
In Basement, Jurey visits the Soviet Union with Nixon, tours China with Ford, and witnesses Carter’s Camp David summit. She doesn’t analyze presidential policies, but instead describes crucial moments in history; one passage details her experience in the press pool during the Nixon administration’s final days. Despite Jurey’s unique experiences, her story was a hard sell to publishers, she says: “They did not think a book about the VOA would attract much of an audience.” So Jurey initiated Linus Press (named after her late dachshund) and self-published the book, which has so far been marketed only in the U.S. Overseas distribution may come laterat any rate, the Cleveland Park resident isn’t worried that Basement has a limited shelf life: “The book is not perishable, because it’s history, really,” she says optimistically.