President Obama announced on Friday that he was nominating his current budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, as the administration tries to move beyond its early struggles and controversies in implementing what has become to be known as ObamaCare.
She spent much of the last year deeply embedded in Washington’s fiscal fights, including the standoff that led to a 15-day government shutdown last fall. She also handled health policy as part of her job as Mr. Obama’s budget chief.
If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Burwell would become the third Greek American ever in a cabinet position. Pete Peterson was the first, serving in the Nixon Administration as Secretary of Commerce. Spiro Agnew, as Vice President was the first.
Andy Manatos, veteran lobbyist and the “grandfather of Greek American politics” (and a deputy cabinet member himself serving under the Carter Administration) called the nomination “historic” for Greek Americans.
“Sylvia has been a friend and supporter for years. As a second generation Greek American herself, she understands the importance of the Greek American community in the political life of our nation and will serve the Obama Administration well. It’s a historic moment for our community,” said Manatos.
Mathews was born and raised in Hinton, West Virginia. She is the daughter of Cleo (née Maroudas) Mathews, a former Hinton mayor, and Dr. William Peter Mathews, a retired optometrist. Her maternal grandparents, Vasiliki (Bakares) and Dennis N. Maroudas, were Greek immigrants, as were her paternal grandparents.
She began her career while still in college, serving as an intern for West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall, as governor’s aide to Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, and working on the Dukakis/Bentsen and the Clinton/Gore campaigns.
Ms. Mathews served as Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 1998, and was Chief of Staff to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubinfrom 1995 to 1997.
She received a bachelor’s degree in government, cum laude, from Harvard University in 1987 and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.
Before joining the Obama administration, she headed important charitable organizations including the Walmart Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Ms. Mathews has been a Director of MetLife and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company since January 2004. She often returns to West Virginia and to West Virginia University to speak, and recently a scholarship was established in her honor to support aspiring WVU political science students.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story noted that Ms. Mathews would be the second Greek American member of the cabinet. A note from our reader “Eleni” corrected this and shared the information below. The correction has been made. Thank you Eleni for your correction! We stand corrected!
From the White House website: “The Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General.”