By Bill Trott
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As a member of the U.S. Secret Service's most elite detail, Joseph Clancy guarded the lives of three U.S. presidents and now will try to repair the agency's damaged credibility after a spate of embarrassments and failures.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Clancy's appointment as interim director shortly after Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned on Wednesday.
Clancy rejoins the service after leaving his job as head of security for the Comcast media corporation in the Philadelphia area where he grew up.
Clancy, 58, who joined Comcast after retiring from the Secret Service in 2011, had served as special agent in charge of the Secret Service's elite Presidential Protective Division.
He was frequently seen in news photographs and video alongside Barack Obama: a fit, bald-headed man with a stern presence within arm's reach of the president. He also was part of the protection details for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a member of the House Government Oversight Committee that grilled Pierson about the agency's problems in a hearing on Tuesday, said Clancy was a good choice for the job.
"He is a person the president has utmost confidence in," Cummings told NBC News. "He will take a bullet for him."
David Axelrod, formerly a top Obama adviser, knew Clancy during his time at the White House and tweeted that "you could not find a better person to repair the Secret Service."
Mickey Nelson, Clancy's former Secret Service partner, told the New York Times that Clancy had a low-key, no-nonsense demeanor and was known to colleagues as "Father Joe."
"He was deciding to either go into the Secret Service or be a priest," Nelson said.
A humbling security lapse occurred on Clancy's watch during his first tour with the Secret Service. He was in charge of White House security in 2009 when Tareq and Michaele Salahi, a couple hoping to be part of a reality television show, slipped past agents into a White House state dinner without invitations.
At Comcast, Clancy was responsible for security at the company's facilities and was involved in investigations of theft of services, according to media reports.
"During more than three years at Comcast, he was an integral part of our security team and we are sad to see him leave," Comcast said in a statement.
Before joining the Secret Service in the 1980s, Clancy attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduated from Villanova University and taught government and European history at a Philadelphia school. The Times said he has a son who is a Secret Service employee.
He returns to the service less than a week after it was embarrassed by a man who jumped the White House fence, eluded security and sprinted well into the executive mansion before being subdued.
The service's credibility also was damaged in 2012 when it was revealed that members had hired prostitutes while in Cartagena, Colombia, in advance of an Obama trip and in 2011 when a man hit the White House with automatic rifle fire, although the damage was not discovered until four days later.
(Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Jim Loney and Frances Kerry)