For New Social Secretary, Life in the Fast Lane

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Desirée Rogers's life in Chicago as a top-notch corporate executive has long been a whirlwind she could manage. Yesterday, she began to understand that her life in Washington will have a whole new intensity.

As news circulated that this close friend of President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, will be the new White House social secretary and a special assistant to the president, Rogers actually believed she could go about her routine.

"I'm trying to keep appointments and get through the day, at least this day -- but it's been unbelievable," she said, sounding somewhat breathless, by telephone from Chicago.

Rogers, an executive at Allstate Financial, said she was approached about the job only 10 days ago, and everything has moved at a rapid pace since then. She talked with former White House social secretary Ann Stock and longtime friend Ann Jordan, a civic force of her own in Washington, and with the Obamas.

"I think I really wanted to have a better understanding of what the job was and just make certain that my view of the job was in sync with what the president-elect and first lady wanted it to be, and it is," she said.

The vision, she explained, includes making the White House and its grounds more accessible and more inclusive to many more citizens.

"I think we see it as really adding vibrancy and excitement and more life to the White House, making it a symbol of pride for Americans," she said. "One idea Michelle had was to have an event for military families -- here they are sacrificing so much for the country and many of them probably have never been invited to the White House."

Rogers, 49, said she also hopes to make full use of the expansive grounds for large-scale events to "showcase America's best, whether it is bringing in experts or artists -- to show what America is all about." In addition, she wants to explore technological advancements to bring the White House to people through interactive events. She said she's committed to developing events featuring children, since, with the Obama daughters, this is the first time in 30 years young children will be living in the White House.

Her first massive assignment will land in her lap before her boss even takes office: helping to organize White House events surrounding the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Rogers will be the first African American to become social secretary. A Harvard MBA, she is a high-profile civic and business leader in Chicago who headed a $2 billion utility before moving to Allstate this year.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company