Politics, as Usual

Barack Obama alongside Betsy Myers '82.


It was the ultimate start-up, and Betsy Myers was the perfect person for the job.

She’d spent the recent years of her career either planning strategies for new organizations or refocusing those that needed it. When the presidential campaign of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama came calling in early 2007, Myers took a meeting with the charismatic presidential hopeful.

“I basically turned my life upside down and moved within about two weeks,” she says. As chief operating officer, she commuted between Virginia and Chicago until husband Rob Keller and their 5-year-old daughter made the move. Myers oversees the campaign’s day-to-day operations, from hiring employees and equipping their work environment to supervising the campaign’s budget and handling travel logistics.

“I love start-up projects,” Myers exudes. “I’m very good at putting teams together. For me as a COO, what a challenge to be able to come in and be a part of something that was really historic.”

But she’s been in that role before, too. Myers started the first White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach, serving as President Bill Clinton’s deputy assistant and director of women’s initiatives. Before joining the Obama campaign, she was the executive director of the Center for Public Leaadership at Harvard University.

High-powered challenges suit Myers, who radiates confident energy. She talks quickly, but every word is well thought-out. Her glassed-in office in downtown Chicago is inviting, in keeping with her demeanor. The only art on the wall is an abstract piece, all swirls of pink, green and yellow — an original painting by daughter Madison, who sometimes visits the office.

“I want her to know about all this stuff — what mommy’s doing, why I’m doing it, why it’s important,” Myers says. She recently took her daughter to an event by Women for Obama, a group Myers leads.

“It was her first political event. She got to hear people speaking. It’s was important for her. My mother did the same thing for me,” Myers says. That involvement obviously had an impact; one of Myers’ two sisters is Dee Dee Myers, former President Clinton’s first press secretary.

Myers, who earned an undergraduate degree in business from USD in 1982, loved her time on campus. “Honestly, when I left USD it took me about a year to get over not being there,” she recalls. While a student, she put her characteristic energy to good use, running for office and co-founding the Alcalá Women’s Club — a precursor to today’s Alcalá Club — to provide hostesses for the president of the university’s events and foster business contacts for the students.

She and Dee Dee both worked on the Mondale-Ferraro campaign; it was there that Myers was bitten by the political bug.

“You get into that world. I just always think that politics is a really fascinating place to be,” Myers says. “My time in the White House was probably the highest privilege (of my life), to really be in a place where you can make such a difference in the lives of so many people.” — Kelly Knufken

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