Frank Fuller spent several years at the White House. However the Avoca native doesn’t necessarily concentrate on the past. He says it’s all about the future.
Fuller served as director of Presidential Food Services under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He was responsible for executive dining services in the West Wing, Oval Office, Cabinet Room and senior staff dining rooms. Before that, however, Fuller made a name for himself doing similar tasks in the United States Navy.
Fuller was featured in the Sunday Dispatch’s “Spotlight” on Sunday, May 4, 1997. Stationed aboard the Naval submarine U.S.S. Emory S. Land, Fuller was a leader of a team of Navy cooks. The group earned the U.S. Navy’s highest culinary award, the Ney, established in tribute to Captain Edward Francis Ney.
Fuller, then 35, would grace the pages of the Sunday Dispatch several more times before he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 after 24 years of service.
As the sub’s food service officer, Fuller was responsible for the entire gallery operation. He worked to feed a crew of 1,700 with a 125-person team and a $2 million budget.
In the story printed in 1997, Fuller said he would retire in May of 2000 after 20 years of service. He would end up putting in another four years thanks to his culinary background.
How it all started
Fuller graduated from Seton Catholic in 1979. Throughout school, Fuller enjoyed outdoor sports and activities. He said he would fish a lot at his family’s summer cottage in Falls.
“It was a storybook childhood,” he said. “I remember going to the St. John’s dances. We had a lot of fun.”
Fuller credits his upbringing to his parents and teachers. That’s one of the reasons he was able to stay in the United States Navy for 24 years.
“I was really taught to do the right thing with attention to detail,” he said. “That’s what I remember from the teachers in school — be forthright and be honest with integrity.”
After taking a year off following graduation, Fuller still wasn’t sure what he would do. Eventually he decided it was time to get out of Greater Pittston and experience other things.
“I knew there was something else out there for me,” he said.
After taking is IQ test at a local recruiters’ station, Fuller had several options as to what his naval career would be. The recruiter gave him 40 different choices, but those required a lot of schooling.
“Then, he asked me if I was interested in cooking,” Fuller said. “I had a lot more to offer the Navy at the time, but (cooking) was it.”
He enlisted in 1980. Six years later, the Navy provided Fuller with some more education. He received his bachelor’s degree in culinary arts in 1986 and his bachelor’s degree in food service management in 1992 from Johnson & Whales University.
Around the world in 90 days
Fuller admits he joined the Navy to see the world. He wanted to get exposed to different walks of life. He got that exposure very early in his duties.
Fuller picked up his first assignment in 1980 with a squadron of F-14s on the U.S.S. Eisenhower. At the time, that ship was involved in the Iranian Crisis in the Persian Gulf. Fuller flew out of Avoca to California. From there, he flew to Hawaii, then Guam, then the Philippines. He eventually ended at a small island named Diego Garcia. He was shipped out to the Persian Gulf where he met the Eisenhower halfway through its cruise.
From there, the crew sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and back up through the Atlantic and to Norfolk.
“That was all in 90 days,” Fuller said.
While on a vessel, Fuller’s duties in the mess hall were “controlled chaos.” Fuller would be in charge of feeding thousands of seaman each day. He and his team were in charge of the mess hall for 20 hours, seven days a week.
When asked about the food quality, Fuller didn’t hesitate.
“The Navy has the best quality of food in the armed services, without a doubt,” he said. “We eat very well out there.”
Fuller said some of the favorites are steak and lobster, which usually comes from the United States or locally approved vendors.
A White House opportunity
In May 1998, Fuller established the Mid-Atlantic Regional Food Service Office. He was the director for nearly two years and helped direct the operation of eight dining facilities with 600 staff members and approximately 12,000 meals daily.
Following his stint in various mess halls in the Navy, Fuller was ready to retire from the military. However, the opportunity to work at the White House caught his attention. He began his assignment as the director of Presidential Food Service in 1999. He spent four years at the White House.
During his run as director, Fuller directed dining services for the president and 850 senior staff members in the Oval Office, Cabinet Room and West Wing dining rooms under the Clinton and Bush administrations.
The Navy controls food services for the White House.
Food was also Fuller’s responsibility when the president and his staff were out of the White House. Fuller directed worldwide food security with the Secret Service in over 60 foreign countries, including the 2002 Winter Olympics and annual G-8 Summits.
“It was surreal,” Fuller said about working in such a capacity. “You’re serving the most powerful family in the universe. That didn’t allow for any mistakes.”
Although Fuller said Clinton’s and Bush’s favorite foods were classified information, he did say they enjoy home-cooked meals. Fuller would only cook for the presidents when they were working in the White House. It was not his responsibility for residential meals.
Fuller hesitates when talking about his duties at the White House. He knows he held a very high position that included a Top Secret Security Clearance for four years. But now, he doesn’t dwell on those memories.
“It’s not about the past, it’s about the future,” he said. “The past was your foundation but you always have to look forward to the future.”
After his tenure at the White House, Fuller was named the Greater Pittston Friendly Sons of St. Patrick “Man of the Year” in 2004.
Still traveling today
Fuller is currently living in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife, Terry. They have two sons in their late 20s, Patrick and Brendan. Patrick is a 29-year-old police officer in Alexandria, while Brendan works in sales for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Brendan’s name might be familiar to people in Northeast Pennsylvania. He was a basketball player at The University of Scranton from 2005-2009.
Since leaving the Navy in 2004, Fuller has stayed in the culinary business. He was a territory sales manager for the Hobart Corporation from 2004-13. He’s currently the eastern region sales manager for Oliver Packaging and Equipment Company.
Fuller’s job requires traveling. However, when he’s not working, that’s usually what he’s doing with his wife. They play a lot of golf, he said. Their home course is Mount Vernon Country Club in Alexandria. They have a second home in Naples, Florida. Fuller’s mother, Avoca native Mary Jane Fuller, currently resides in Fort Myers, just 30 miles from Naples.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick