Valerie June Jarrett (née Bowman; born November 14, 1956)[1] is an American businesswoman and former government official serving as the chief executive officer of the Obama Foundation since 2021.[2] She was the longest-serving senior advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama. She was assistant to the president for public engagement and intergovernmental affairs, overseeing the office of the same name, and chaired the White House Council on Women and Girls.[3] Before that, she was the chief executive officer of The Habitat Company and served as a co-chair of the Obama–Biden Transition Project.[4][5]

Valerie Jarrett
Jarrett's 2009 White House portrait
CEO of the Obama Foundation
Assumed office
October 1, 2021
Preceded byDavid Simas
Acting President of the Obama Foundation
In office
March 25, 2021 – October 1, 2021
Preceded byWally Adeyemo
Succeeded byDavid Simas
Director of the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJulie E. Cram (Public Liaison)
Janet Creighton (Intergovernmental Affairs)
Succeeded byGeorge Sifakis (Public Liaison)
Justin R. Clark (Intergovernmental Affairs)
Senior Advisor to the President
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byBarry Jackson
Succeeded byJared Kushner
Stephen Miller
Personal details
Valerie June Bowman

(1956-11-14) November 14, 1956 (age 67)
Shiraz, Iran
Political partyDemocratic
William Jarrett
(m. 1983; div. 1988)
EducationStanford University (BA)
University of Michigan (JD)

Early life and education


Jarrett was born in Shiraz, Iran,[1] during the Shah's rule, to American parents James E. Bowman and Barbara T. Bowman. Her father, a pathologist and geneticist, worked at a hospital in Shiraz in 1956. When she was five years old, the family moved to London for a year, later moving to Chicago in 1962.[6][7][8]

Her parents are African-American of African and European descent. On the television series Finding Your Roots, DNA testing indicated that Jarrett is of 49% European, 46% African, and 5% Native American descent. Among her European roots, she was found to have French and Scottish ancestry.[9] One of her maternal great-grandfathers, Robert Robinson Taylor, was the first accredited African-American architect, and the first African-American student enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[10] Her maternal grandfather, Robert Rochon Taylor, was chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority in the 1940s.[11]

As a child, Jarrett spoke Persian, French, and English.[12] Her mother was one of four children's advocates who created the Erikson Institute in 1966. The institute was established to expand collective knowledge of child development for teachers and other professionals working with young children.[13]

Jarrett graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon School in 1974, and earned a B.A. in psychology from Stanford University in 1978 and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981.[14] On May 21, 2016, she received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Colby College in Waterville, Maine.[15]



Chicago municipal politics


Jarrett got her start in Chicago politics in 1987 working for Mayor Harold Washington[16] as deputy corporation counsel for finance and development.[17]

Jarrett continued to work in the Chicago mayor's office in the 1990s. She was deputy chief of staff for Mayor Richard Daley, during which time (1991) she hired Michelle Robinson (who was then engaged to Barack Obama) from Sidley Austin.[18][19] Jarrett served as commissioner of the department of planning and development from 1991 through 1995,[20] and she was chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority from 1995 to 2003.[21]

Business administration


From 1995 to 2009, Jarrett was the CEO of The Habitat Company, a real estate development and management company.[22] She was replaced as CEO by Mark Sega when she joined the Obama administration. Daniel E. Levin is the chairman of Habitat, which was formed in 1971.[23] Jarrett was a member of the board of Chicago Stock Exchange (2000–2007, as chairman, 2004–2007).

Jarrett was a member of the board of trustees of the University of Chicago Medical Center from 1996 to 2009, becoming vice chairwoman in 2002 and chairwoman in 2006.[24] She also served as chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Board[25] and vice chairwoman of the board of trustees of the University of Chicago. She was a trustee of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago[26] and a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.[25] Jarrett serves on the board of directors of USG Corporation, a Chicago-based building materials corporation.

Advisor to Barack Obama

Obama speaks to Jarrett and other staff, August 2009
Barack Obama and Valerie Jarrett converse in the Blue Room, White House, 2010

Jarrett was President Obama's longest serving advisor, confidante and was "widely tipped for a high-profile position in an Obama administration."[27][28][29]

Unlike Bert Lance, who arrived from Georgia with President [Jimmy] Carter and became his budget director, or Karen Hughes, who was President [George W.] Bush's communications manager, Ms. Jarrett isn't a confidante with a particular portfolio. What she does share with these counterparts is a fierce sense of loyalty and a refusal to publicly say anything that may reflect poorly on the candidate—or steal his thunder.[27]

On November 14, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama selected Jarrett to serve as a senior advisor to the president and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison.[30]

Jarrett was one of three senior advisors to President Obama.[31] She held the retitled position of assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement,[31] managed the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, and Office of Urban Affairs; she also chaired the White House Council on Women and Girls and the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic, and Youth Sport.[32] She was part of the U.S. State Visit to the UK in May 2011.[33]

She said that the 2011 report Women in America, which the administration produced for the Council on Women and Girls, would be used to guide policy-making.[34]

Jarrett had a staff of approximately three dozen and received full-time Secret Service protection.[35] Jarrett's role as both a friend of the Obamas and as senior advisor in the White House was controversial: in his memoirs Robert M. Gates, former secretary of defense, discussed his objection to her involvement in foreign security affairs;[36] David Axelrod reported in his memoirs about Rahm Emanuel's attempts to have her selected as Obama's replacement in the senate, due to concerns about the difficulty in working with a family friend in a major policy role.[37]

Additional leadership positions


In addition to being senior advisor to the president, Jarrett held other leadership positions and completed further duties. Among those included chairing the White House Council on Women and Girls and co-chairing the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.[38][39] In March 2014, she participated as a speaker on Voices in Leadership, an original Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health webcast series, in a discussion entitled, "Leadership in the White House," moderated by Dr. Atul Gawande.[40]

Relationship with the Obamas

President Obama speaks with Jarrett in a West Wing corridor

In 1991, as deputy chief of staff to Mayor Richard Daley, Jarrett interviewed Michelle Robinson for an opening in the mayor's office, after which she immediately offered Robinson the job.[41] Robinson asked for time to think and also asked Jarrett to meet her fiancé, Barack Obama. The three ended up meeting for dinner. After the dinner, Robinson accepted the job with the mayor's office. It was at this time that Jarrett reportedly took the couple under her wing and "introduced them to a wealthier and better-connected Chicago than their own."[42] When Jarrett later left her position at the mayor's office to head the Chicago department of planning and development, Michelle Obama went with her.

Support for 2008 US Presidential Election


Obama's election team and supporters, for example at the Philadelphia National Constitution Center speech, included Valerie Jarrett, David Plouffe and David Axelrod, all whom later joined him and First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House.[43]

Post-Obama administration


Since leaving the White House, Jarrett has volunteered as a senior advisor to the Obama Foundation.[44]

She joined the board of directors of Ariel Investments,[25] 2U, Inc.,[45] Lyft,[46] Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,[47] Walgreens Boots Alliance, Ralph Lauren Corporation, Sweetgreen,[48] and is a member of the Goldman Sachs One Million Black Women advisory council.[49]

She served as the co-chair of the United State of Women,[50] chair of the Board of When We All Vote and Civic Nation,[51][52] and a senior advisor to ATTN:.[53] In January 2018 she became a distinguished senior fellow at the University of Chicago Law School.[54][55]

In July 2017 Jarrett signed a deal with Viking Press for her book titled Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward.[56] It was published in 2019.[57]

In December 2020, following the announcement that Obama Foundation President Wally Adeyemo would be nominated to become Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, the Foundation announced that Jarrett would take over his duties on an interim basis until a successor can be found.[58] Jarrett has served as chief executive officer of the Foundation since 2021 and is a member of the board of directors.[59][60]


Along with Donna Brazile, vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, she is one of the political figures to make a cameo appearance as herself in the CBS drama The Good Wife.[61]

Personal life

Jarrett's daughter, Laura Jarrett

In 1983 she married William Robert Jarrett, son of Chicago Sun-Times reporter Vernon Jarrett. She attributes her switch from a private to a public career to the birth of their daughter, and her own desire to do something that would make their daughter proud.[62] Her daughter, Laura Jarrett, would go on to become an attorney and reporter for CNN and is now a senior legal correspondent at NBC and Saturday Today co-anchor,[63][64][65] and daughter-in-law of the Canadian politician Bas Balkissoon.[66]

To one reporter's emailed question about her divorce, she replied, "Married in 1983, separated in 1987, and divorced in 1988. Enough said."[62] In a Vogue profile, she further explained, "We grew up together. We were friends since childhood. In a sense, he was the boy next door. I married without really appreciating how hard divorce would be."[62] William Jarrett died on November 19, 1993, at age 40, and at the time of his death he was director of obstetrics and gynecology at Jackson Park Hospital.[67]

In 2018, a tweet by Roseanne Barr disparaged her. Barr said, in reference to Jarrett, it was as though the “muslim brotherhood and planet of the apes had a baby”. Subsequently, Barr was sanctioned by her talent agency ICM Partners, losing the lead role on her eponymous television program, Roseanne.[68]


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  9. ^ Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, October 28, 2014.
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Political offices
Preceded byas Director of the Office of Public Liaison Director of the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs
Served alongside: Tina Tchen, Jon Carson, Paulette Aniskoff (Public Engagement); Cecilia Muñoz, David Agnew, Jerry Abramson (Intergovernmental Affairs)
Succeeded byas Director of the Office of Public Liaison
Preceded byas Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Succeeded byas Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
Preceded by Senior Advisor to the President
Served alongside: Brian Deese, Shailagh Murray
Succeeded by