Paul Hegarty used to look out his Thurston Hall window at the dreary gray Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a scaffolding-encased structure he found markedly unattractive, and wonder what work went on there.
Now, Hegarty cuts through the Foggy Bottom Campus Monday through Friday to reach that same building, where he works as the assistant chief of protocol, overseeing all official U.S. visits, from presidents’ travels across the country and globe to foreign dignitaries’ trips to America.
Hegarty, one of the country’s top advance officers, graduated in 1993 with a political science degree from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
“I had no idea what that big, ugly gray building was,” Hegarty said. “And six years later, I worked there.”
For Hegarty, moving from his home state of Arizona to the District was a journey – he had never even spent time on the East Coast, let alone outside the country. But his current job has him traveling regularly – both inside and outside the U.S.
Hegarty entered advance as a line of work after his original post-graduation job plans fell through. Senior year, he was hired on to work as a national fundraiser for former Sen. Dennis DiConcini, D-Az., who was seeking reelection that fall.
DiConcini chose not to run for office again, and Hegarty was out of a job.
After a series of interviews with other senators, Hegarty said he pestered DiConcini’s office to ask then-Vice President Al Gore’s office if there were openings on his advance team. Gore had attended fundraising events he organized a few days before.
About a year and a half later, Hegarty landed a spot traveling with the advance group. On his third trip, he found himself leaving the country for the first time to join President Bill Clinton on a trip to Germany.
“Here I was, you know, a 22-year-old kid representing them overseas, a novel experience,” Hegarty said.
Later, he spent four years working at the Democratic National Committee and began working for President Barack Obama’s advance team when he won the Democratic nomination in 2008.
Hegarty said doing advance, he feels similar to a stage director, ensuring officials’ security, time, location and events all coordinate and the show runs smoothly.
“You’re there, you’re a couple of days in advance, figuring out how exactly the movements are going to be,” he said. “How can you keep them so that their time is the most efficient?”