CHICAGO (AP) _ Desiree Rogers threw the perfect birthday party for one of President-elect Barack Obama’s senior advisers this month, meticulously planning details down to the flowers (orchids) and cake (yellow with chocolate frosting).
Now the accomplished businesswoman and Harvard University MBA will become the country’s uber party planner _ and much more _ as the White House social secretary for the Obamas, who are her close friends.
A self-described stickler for details, Rogers said many of her friends thought the job would be a perfect fit because of her marketing knowledge and her ability to work with all kinds of people, experience she gained working her way up through the business world and serving on civic boards.
“I cringe when I hear ‘just the party planner,”’ she said. “My view of this job is really, it is a role that will bring to life the Obama presidency.”
Rogers, who will be the first African-American to hold the job, brings the resume of a business leader to her new role, which involves running all events at the White House except for private appointments.
Now president of social networking at Allstate Financial, Rogers, 49, previously was president of the Chicago-area natural gas utilities Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, and she has served as director of the Illinois Lottery. Her civic work includes serving on boards for Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry and helping Chicago with its 2016 Summer Olympics bid.
She said she sees her role as making the White House open and inclusive.
“Really have it, you know, be used and seen … as a home for all of us,” she said.
Rogers’ job is definitely more than party planning, as reflected by her additional title of special assistant to the president, said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett
The title, Jarrett said, “connotes the significance of making events strategic.”
Paul Light, a presidential historian at New York University, said having someone politically savvy as social secretary makes the job a significant part of helping to advance a president’s agenda because of the maneuvering involved when it comes to whom to invite and to what events.
“It’s a key distribution point for the favors that Washington desperately wants,” Light said.
Not that Rogers can’t throw a good party _ as evidenced by the 52nd birthday fete she recently threw for Jarrett that the Obamas attended. The menu of sliced filet, fresh vegetables, salad and her favorite cake delighted the celebrant.
“Her home just turned into my dream,” Jarrett said.
Ann Stock, who was social secretary in the Clinton White House, had dinner with Rogers recently to talk about the job.
Like Rogers, Stock was a businesswoman before she went to the White House _ a vice president at Bloomingdale’s. She’s now a vice president at the Kennedy Center.
“You do everything from a tea to a 4,000-person peace signing and everything in between,” Stock said.
Rogers will help the Obamas follow White House traditions _ and create their own. Jarrett said soon-to-be first lady Michelle Obama has asked Rogers to be involved in planning for the inaugural in January.
“She knows what they like … she knows their taste, but she also knows their vision for the country and how the White House can fit into fulfilling that vision, so making the home open and inviting and children-friendly,” Jarrett said.
Associated Press Writer Lisa Tolin contributed to this report from Washington.
Pictured above is Desiree Rogers.