WASHINGTON (AP) — Anna Cristina Niceta Lloyd auditioned for the job of White House social secretary and may not have known it.
The veteran event planner's creativity and handicraft were prominently on display at President Donald Trump's inaugural luncheon at the Capitol, the fifth one she has worked on. Maine lobster and Gulf shrimp, grilled Angus beef, and chocolate souffle with cherry vanilla ice cream were on the menu. Sprays of roses in shades of pink, cream and melon spruced up Statuary Hall, the otherwise drab venue.
Among the roughly 200 guests taking it all in was Melania Trump.
Less than a month after the Jan. 20 luncheon, the first lady announced she had hired Niceta Lloyd to fill one of the most coveted behind-the-scenes roles at the White House: social secretary.
The post makes Niceta Lloyd the creative curator behind near-daily events for the president and first lady. It meant deciding what to serve at the recent get-to-know-you dinner between a new president and his Chinese counterpart. (Pan-seared Dover sole and New York strip steak were served, and Trump praised the "beautiful" chocolate cake they ate while discussing the U.S. cruise missile strike on Syria.) And on Monday, it involves hosting no fewer than 21,000 children and adults for the annual Easter Egg Roll, a 139-year-old tradition and the Super Bowl of White House social events.
For Niceta Lloyd, who goes by "Rickie," the job has the added challenge of collaborating with a first lady who is not yet living at the White House full time.
In announcing the appointment, Mrs. Trump highlighted that Niceta Lloyd has more than two decades of experience in diplomatic, political and social entertaining in Washington. The first lady, who was a model, said she looked forward to "sharing my ideas and traditions of entertaining and social hospitality" with her new aide. She is mostly living at the family's Trump Tower penthouse in midtown Manhattan with the couple's 11-year-old son until school lets out.
Niceta Lloyd was in her 20s when she was hired by Design Cuisine, an Arlington, Virginia-based special event caterer whose clients include the White House, State Department and several embassies. She also worked on the past five inaugurations of Republican and Democratic presidents.
Now 46, the mother of two left the company after the White House made an offer she couldn't refuse.
Bill Homan, a founder of Design Cuisine, praised his former employee's intelligence, creativity and organizational skill, as well as her sensitivity and discretion.
"These are certainly very important in our business," he said.
Lea Berman, a social secretary during George W. Bush's administration who for many years relied on Niceta Lloyd to plan her private parties, said she is a "joyful person to work with" despite the stress that's built into event planning.
"The best never lose their cool; Rickie is like that," Berman said. "She's unflappable. Just what you'd hope for in a White House social secretary."
Niceta Lloyd's appointment to a job that paid her immediate predecessor $119,000 closes the loop on a chapter in White House history, and her family's history, too.
Her husband is Thomas Lloyd, a grandson of the late Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, an arts patron and political financier who was a confidante to Jacqueline Kennedy. Mellon helped Mrs. Kennedy redesign the White House Rose Garden.
"Having that kind of background, it just made it like things had come full circle," said Bryan Huffman, a North Carolina-based interior designer who knew Mellon and knows Niceta Lloyd.
A former social secretary recommended her to Mrs. Trump. The first lady had also attended events Niceta Lloyd had organized, including the inaugural luncheon, and is said to have come away impressed.
"Sometimes, seeing is believing and seeing what she pulled off that day ... that might have definitely contributed to the decision," said Anita McBride, who was first lady Laura Bush's chief of staff.
Mrs. Trump's decision to hire Niceta Lloyd also shows that the first lady, a New Yorker who is slowly building her White House team, recognizes that she's unfamiliar with Washington's customs and needs experienced hands to help guide her. Lack of staff has already hampered some operations, such as the White House Visitors Office, which stayed closed for several weeks longer than usual following a change in presidents.
Planning for the Easter Egg Roll also seemed to get off to a late start. The Trumps announced Monday's date later than usual, and some regular participants went public with their anxiety over not hearing from the White House earlier in the year.
But make no mistake: The tradition will continue, just downsized from last year when 35,000 people received tickets.