By Garry Clifford
September 21, 1981 12:00 PM

For Peter McCoy August 5 was more or less just another day. He rose at 6:30, had breakfast with his wife, Kacey, drove his Cadillac to the White House, and by 7:40 was at his East Wing desk. By 8:00 he was in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room for a meeting with the President’s Big Three, Jim Baker, Ed Meese and Mike Deaver. Then he picked up Nancy Reagan for the main event: the 10 a.m. arrival of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat. Later Peter escorted Nancy and Jihan Sadat upstairs “for a little tea so they could get acquainted.” There was a flurry about a seating switch for that night’s state dinner, and a briefing for the First Lady on her guests. After going home at 5:40 to shave and dress, he rushed back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with Kacey in time to greet guests at 7:15. Not until 12:15 a.m. did the McCoys bid goodnight to the Reagans in their second floor quarters and totter off to Spring Valley and bed.

Except for Ron and Nancy themselves, no one spends more time in the White House family rooms than Peter McCoy. As Mrs. Reagan’s $52,000-a-year chief of staff, McCoy, 39, supervises her activities and accompanies her on travels such as her July trip to London for the royal wedding. He has, in fact, been at her call since the 1980 Republican convention.

Kacey, 35, like other Administration wives, is neck-deep in volunteer work. Among other jobs, she’s co-chairman of next week’s Ambassadors Ball, a benefit for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and is also helping to organize this December’s annual Kennedy Center Honors, a tribute to outstanding artists. Meantime, she is called upon to be her husband’s unpaid partner both at all official occasions and on the D.C. social circuit, where the McCoys are among the Administration’s most popular couples. “The schedule kills me,” Peter says with a laugh. “But I’m getting used to it.”

For nine years, McCoy was president of the Sotheby Parke Bernet auction house in L.A., where he worked long days courting clients and three nights a week peddling art and antiques. At the White House he needs all of his gallery-bred talent for good-natured diplomacy. In Administrations past, relations between the staffs in the President’s West Wing and the First Lady’s East Wing have often been uneasy. McCoy has worked to eliminate strains, a goal that is simplified somewhat by the fact that he is not only Mrs. Reagan’s top aide but also a deputy assistant to the President. That gives him entrée to West Wing meetings and the clout to smooth over problems with other high Reagan staffers.

McCoy commands a $600,000 budget and an all-female staff of 15 (Rosalynn Carter had more than 20 aides). “I get involved in everything,” he says, and everything can range from deciding which press interviews Nancy grants, to who will be aboard Air Force One on a trip. But McCoy’s forte is handling flaps. For example, he helped tamp down press criticism of the $800,000 White House refurbishment. “Look,” he says, “10,000 people a day go through at times. The Fords had family there and the Carters had small children. It was like a rooming house, and that takes its toll.”

Though the L.A.-born McCoys went to the same Beverly Hills grammar school, their romance blossomed much later. Peter is the son of writer Horace McCoy, whose credits include the novel that was turned into the 1969 Jane Fonda film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? When his father died in 1955, Peter’s family was strapped and he had to forget plans for prep school and college. After Beverly Hills High he went to work at the William Morris Agency as a secretary. He quickly moved up, and by 1972 had shown such aplomb at handling actors and producers as a Morris agent that he was hired to head Sotheby’s then year-old L.A. office. It has flourished, thanks partly to McCoy’s flair for auctioneering. He got to know Nancy Reagan well when she was shopping for antiques in 1975. With her sponsorship, McCoy was chosen to handle VIP seating at the GOP conventions of 1976 and 1980. When Reagan was nominated, he became Nancy’s chief campaign assistant.

Kacey—really Kathleen C.—is a great granddaughter of oil baron Edward Doheny. A onetime miner who made millions from discoveries of black gold in California early in the century, Doheny also figured prominently in the Teapot Dome scandal that rocked the Harding Administration. Kacey grew up with celebrity daughters like Candice Bergen and Sharon Linkletter. At 20 she started drama lessons at UCLA. But when “the first assignment was pretending to be a broom,” she recalls, “I realized I wasn’t serious about acting.” Instead she got serious about Peter—after they met again by chance in 1967 at the Madrid airport. Kacey, on vacation from her job as a junior buyer for I. Magnin’s in L.A., was in Europe to visit a friend; Peter was on his way home from a holiday. Back in the U.S., they dated for six months before marrying in 1968. “I always thought Peter was special,” she says. “He is a very independent person who made his way on his own. I never had to do that.”

Kacey doesn’t mind that her husband now has two mistresses to serve. “I’m flattered that Mrs. Reagan thinks as highly of him as I do,” she says. Peter, for his part, doesn’t mind being a First Lady’s man. During the campaign, other aides nicknamed him “the Purser,” because he was always so concerned over the whereabouts of Nancy’s purse and luggage. “I’m pretty secure,” he smiles. “I know what I’m good at and what I’m bad at, and I don’t have a lot to prove to anyone.”

Kacey has managed to keep her sense of humor and a Washington scrapbook. “She’s been an awfully good sport,” says Peter. When they do have time to relax, she prowls D.C. galleries and cooks for Peter and their children Shane, 8, and Patrick, 10. No longer able to tend his prized L.A. garden, Peter unwinds by washing his Seville (license plate: SOTHEBY) and going to movies with Kacey.

Don’t the McCoys ever get tired of political chitchat? “Most of the parties we’ve gone to I haven’t heard politics discussed that much,” Peter says drily. “They usually wind up asking me about antiques.”

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