Chicago businesswoman Valerie Jarrett has earned all sorts of nicknames as an aide to President-elect Barack Obama from "First Friend" to "big sister" to "the other half of Obama's brain." As co-chair of his transition team, Jarrett has spent the past week denying rumors, parsing policy changes and insisting that she doesn't know where she'll end up in the new administration (although Beltway gossip suggests she may be appointed to Obama's seat in the Senate). Of her relationship with the 44th commander-in-chief, Jarrett says simply: "He is my dear friend. I would do anything the President of the United States asked me to do."
Her great-grandfather was the first African-American to graduate from MIT. Her grandfather was the first African American to head the Chicago Housing Authority and her father, Dr. James Bowman, a specialist in hematology and pathology, became the first black resident at Chicago's St. Luke's Hospital.
When the family moved to Chicago in 1963, classmates teased Jarrett for the English accent she had acquired during her early childhood in Iran and London, where her father had worked in health care.
Her mother is an expert in childhood development. Both parents, now in their 80s, still work in Chicago and live just two blocks from the Obamas' home in Hyde Park.
As a teen, she spent her summers traveling to Ghana, Nigeria and Egypt, among other places. Attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School and a Massachusetts boarding school before earning her bachelor's at Stanford and later a law degree from the University of Michigan.
Left corporate law after the birth of her only child, Laura, to take a job in 1987 in the office of Chicago's first black mayor, Harold Washington. Unlike many of her colleagues, she chose to stay on when Richard Daley took over after Washington's sudden death.
As Daley's chief of staff, she hired Michelle Obama (then Michelle Robinson) to work as assistant to the mayor but not before re-assuring Michelle's fiancé, Barack Obama, that the job was right for her.
In 1995, she left her post as Chicago's city-planning commissioner to work for The Habitat Co., a for-profit real-estate firm, of which she is now President and CEO. In June, the Boston Globe ran a story on the firm's struggles, noting that city authorities had reassigned control of one of its housing complexes due to mismanagement.
As a divorced parent, Jarrett once defended checking her watch during a meeting with Mayor Daley by explaining that her daughter's Halloween Parade started in 20 minutes; she got to the march on time.
She remains a key player in her hometown, where she serves as vice chair of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee and hobnobs with local entrepreneurs, journalists, politicians, union bosses and activists. Journalism website Muckety.com has listed her as one of the city's "100 best networked."
"I trust her completely."
Barack Obama, describing his relationship with Jarrett (Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2008)
"She's so calm herself that you find yourself fighting to stay calm as well, trying to even out your tone."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who credits Jarrett for convincing him to endorse Barack Obama (The New Republic, Aug. 27, 2008)
"I've come to love me some Valerie Jarrett."
Dr. Eric Whitaker, vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center and one of Obama's basketball buddies (Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2008)
"We were viewed by the Iranians as Americans, not black Americans, so I had no awareness of race until we returned to the United States."
Recalling her first encounters with racism in the U.S. (Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2008)
"I am a sounding board. I know him well. I know them both well. So I kind of know what makes them who they are."
On her longtime friendship with Barack and Michelle Obama (Vogue, Oct. 2008)
"I can't even go there. You know, it's a very it's a simple question. You would think I could answer it. I can't even it's a distraction. It's a distraction. And as I said, Senator Obama tells us to keep focused. And as Michelle likes to say not getting ahead of ourselves."
When asked by CBS' Katie Couric in August how she would feel if Obama won the presidential election (CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Aug. 11, 2008)