Albert P. Angelone, presidential protector

Albert "Angie" Angelone. Photo courtesy Angelone family
Albert "Angie" Angelone. Photo courtesy Angelone family

By Nelson Sigelman - August 3, 2006

Albert Peter Angelone of West Tisbury, a retired Secret Service agent who helped to protect two presidents and stood tall in the face of gunfire during a 1975 assassination attempt on President Gerald R. Ford, died of heart failure July 29 while doing what he loved to do on Martha's Vineyard, fishing. He was 67.

Known as "Angie," to his many friends, Mr. Angelone, a native of Rockaway Beach, N.Y., followed a familiar daily Island routine that included stops at Coop's tackle shop and C&W Power Equipment for coffee and conversation with friends, and fishing from one end of the Island to the other.

Modest, good-natured, and fond of telling jokes with sometimes obscure punch lines as he held his ever present pipe in his hand, Mr. Angelone's outward appearance and guarded conversation provided little hint to those who met him on Martha's Vineyard of the legendary 21-year Secret Service career, much of it spent working undercover, that earned him a reputation for bravery, quick thinking, and humor.

Secret Service agent Albert P. Angelone reacts to a gunshot on Sept. 22, 1975. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library
Secret Service agent Albert P. Angelone, standing in front of President Gerald Ford's limousine, reacts to a gunshot on Sept. 22, 1975. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library

Born Jan. 13, 1939, Mr. Angelone was a graduate of Adelphi University where he excelled at sports, including lacrosse and wrestling. After a stint in the United States Marine Corps, he earned a master's degree at the University of Hartford.

He joined the Secret Service in June 1968 and was assigned to the New York field office. His physical toughness, street smarts, and ability to win the confidence of people earned him a transfer to the New York special detail as a key member of an undercover team tracking down counterfeiters.

"He was a force to be reckoned with when he was working," said former agent Frank Forgione of Edgartown, who described his long-time friend as "probably the premier undercover agent in the Secret Service. He could buy just about any contraband from the bad guys."

He also knew how to come up with a quick answer to allay suspicion. On one occasion, while working undercover Mr. Angelone was arrested along with some criminals. The criminals spent the night in jail where their shoes were removed as part of the standard procedure.

The next morning in court one of the suspects, wearing jail-issued sandals, became suspicious.

"So one of the bad guys turns around," recalled Mr. Forgione," and he says, 'hey, how come you have shoes on and I have sandals?' He was a little suspicious of that.

"And Angie turns around and says, 'Oh, I don't have toes.' And the guy turns away and says, 'Okay.' Only he could think of something like that."

After working undercover for many years around the country, in 1975 Mr. Angelone was assigned to the presidential protective division. The assignment thrust him into the public spotlight.

Mr. Forgione said that most agents assigned to presidential security hope that they would do the right thing if something were to occur, but for the most part, little ever happens. That was not the case on Sept. 22, 1975 during a presidential visit to San Francisco when a woman later identified as Sara Jane Moore fired one shot from a 38-caliber pistol at President Ford.

"When she shot at the president there were a lot of people ducking," said Mr. Forgione, "but there just happened to be a photographer that captured a picture of some people ducking and pushing the president down, and there was Angie, standing straight ahead looking into the crowd and reaching for his weapon." The photograph appeared on front pages around the country.

Mr. Angelone worked protecting President Ford and his successor, President Jimmy Carter. In 1981 he was assigned to the office of training, where he remained until his retirement in December, 1989.

"He was unique in every sense of the word," said George Rogers, Secret Service assistant director of the office of inspection, who spent many hours on the streets of New York with Mr. Angelone when both men worked undercover. One day Mr. Rogers mentioned he liked to fish. Mr. Angelone told Mr. Rogers he knew just the place to take him to catch a striped bass and arranged for them to meet at 5 am the next morning. A long walk through bulrushes and grass and past abandoned debris took them to a salt marsh at the end of a runway at Kennedy Airport.

"We ended up fishing right off the approach of some runway and about every six minutes a jet came over, but we caught fish," said Mr. Rogers with a laugh.

The incident that helped to end Mr. Angelone's career was also a testament to his self-control and courage. He had been assigned to teach a group of foreign government agents protective driving techniques using a heavily armored limousine.

One of the foreign agents closed a door while Mr. Angelone's hand was on it, clipping off his finger. He looked down, said Mr. Rogers, picked up his finger, and without any shouting to indicate pain or distress said to the agent, "Now look what the hell you did."

He recalled that at that point the foreign agent fainted, and Mr. Angelone went to the hospital. Once there, he told the doctors that he needed his finger because he was giving a harp concert in Carnegie Hall in two weeks.

But his devotion to his job never eclipsed his love of the outdoors and his family.

Mary Ann Angelone said that when she married her husband, a lifelong hunter and fisherman, the first thing he told her was that he needed to have a week to be able to hunt in New York. She said that week was a very long one. Later, after he injured his hand, he stopped hunting but continued to fish.

Mr. Angelone and his wife visited the Vineyard with close family friends and loved it. After his retirement from the Secret Service due to complications from the injury to his hand the couple built a small house in West Tisbury.

"He guarded presidents but the most important thing in his life was his family," said Mrs. Angelone. "He was very proud of his two sons, Anthony, a Marine Corps captain, and Peter, a Secret Service agent. He always put his family first. He put them before the job, he put them before fishing, he put them before anything."

Peter Angelone said that his father, who devoted so much time to serving his country and community, always found time for his family even if it was driving four hours each way for a brief 20-minute visit.

"He always had energy no matter how long he worked that day doing God knows what on the streets," recalled Peter Angelone. "He always had the energy to come home and do simple things."

A funeral mass will be held on Saturday, August 5 at 12 pm at the Our Lady Star of the Sea Church on Massasoit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. A reception will be held at the family residence at 18 Coffins Field Road, West Tisbury following the service where friends may share memories. Memorial donations may be made to Camp Jabberwocky, PO Box 1357, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 or Special Olympics Massachusetts, 450 Maple Street, Building One, Danvers, MA 01923.