Today the White House announced that Deesha Dyer, a 37-year-old Philadelphia native who began her career at 1600 Penn. as a 31-year-old intern in 2009, will be the Obama administration’s fourth social secretary.
Very little is known about Dyer, who previously held the title of deputy social secretary, functioning as the outgoing social secretary Jeremy Bernard’s right-hand woman. Dyer, who will be the second African American woman to hold the top social post, has maintained a low profile in Washington since arriving six years ago — an unwritten rule for a job that’s conducted 99 percent behind-the-scenes.
“Deesha was selected from among an abundance of well-qualified candidates for her passion and dedication to opening the doors of the White House, most notably engaging students from communities across the country,” the White House said in a statement.
First lady Michelle Obama echoed the praise and, according to the statement, has been particularly impressed by Dyer’s “passion, creativity, public-mindedness and relentless competence.” The first lady also pointed to Dyer’s commitment to “going the extra mile to open the White House to people who never dreamed they would walk through these doors.”
Dyer, who grew up in Hershey, Pa., attended the University of Cincinnati and eventually earned an associate degree in women’s studies from the Community College of Philadelphia at 29, is neither a seasoned political animal or a social operator. But by all accounts, she is beloved by her colleagues. This high-profile promotion, with a tenure of 21 months, underscores a commitment by the White House to boost its own and remain “the people’s house,” as opposed to the people-with-the-right-connections’ house.
In the same statement, Dyer said she was “constantly inspired by the openness, diversity, and traditions” of the administration.
Although rumors about Bernard’s replacement have been making their rounds around Washington power circles since Bernard announced his exit this month, a rare profile in Vogue clearly foreshadowed the social office’s choice of heir apparent.
Of the five-person team, Dyer’s is the name that stands out. The story mentions that she “grew up in a rough neighborhood” in West Philadelphia, attended community college at 29 and later snagged a coveted White House internship.
“When I go home to Philly, you would think that I was the First Lady,” Dyer told Vogue. “They have no idea. Some of my family have never even been to D.C.”
Bernard then described Dyer as “serious” and possessing the “great sense of humor” necessary for the job. “And she’s incredibly warm,” he added. “As soon as we met, she hugged me.”
In a 2013 Washington Post story about the White House’s full slate of events, Dyer co-starred in a particular scene from a film symposium held for District, Boston and Brooklyn schoolchildren.
Dyer was armed against the onslaught of “organized chaos” with a “trusty binder” filled with the day’s ticktock, photos of workshop hosts and background notes on each of the participating schools.
“If the first lady asks me a question, I have everything here,” Dyer said in an interview, pointing to her handy-dandy binder.
And in the official photo of Dyer released by the White House on Thursday, a binder (perhaps the same one) gets key placement. The photo isn’t a flashy profile picture or the kind you’d see in the pages of a glossy magazine. In it, Dyer, dressed in a one-shoulder champagne colored gown with a black lace overlay and a black shawl covering her shoulders, sits in the green room of the White House typing away on not one but two smartphones. Her trusty binder filled with all the answers is less than an arm’s-length away.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Dyer would be the Obama administration’s third social secretary. She is the fourth. The piece has been updated.