Indirectly, West Virginia gains stature from the remarkable public career of Hinton native Sylvia Mathews Burwell. She’s a soaring U.S. leader who reached the White House and cabinet importance.
A year ago, the U.S. Senate confirmed her unanimously to be America’s budget director. Friday morning, President Obama said he hopes for a similar result when the Senate considers her nomination to be new secretary of Health and Human Services — a powerful post affecting virtually every American.
After all, the president wisecracked, the federal deficit fell by $400 billion while she was budget chief. Who could ask for more impressive credentials?
Everything about Burwell is impressive. She was born in 1965 into a Greek-American family — father an optometrist, mother the longtime mayor of Hinton. She received a bachelor’s degree cum laude from Harvard University, plus a second degree from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.
She was a college intern for Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., worked for Democratic presidential campaigns and was deputy chief of staff for President Clinton in the 1990s. She veered into major philanthropy, first with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, then with the Walmart Foundation, before becoming U.S. budget director.
Obama declared Friday:
“When the government was forced to shut down last October, and even as most of her own team was barred from reporting to work, Sylvia was a rock — a steady hand on the wheel who helped navigate the country through a very challenging time. Once the government was allowed to reopen, Sylvia was vital to winning the two-year budget agreement that put an end to these manufactured crises …”
In her new post as HHS secretary, the president said, she will face “tough tasks, big challenges. From covering more families with economic security that health insurance provides, to ensuring the safety of our food and drug supply, to protecting the country from outbreak or bioterror attacks, to keeping America at the forefront of job-creating medical research.”
West Virginians should feel pride that a young woman from the hills has risen to the top ranks of national power.