Melissa Winter comes back to La Jolla to accept Bishop's award

Melissa Winter talks about her job as deputy chief of staff for Michelle Obama. Photo: Kathy Day
Melissa Winter talks about her job as deputy chief of staff for Michelle Obama. Photo: Kathy Day

By Kathy Day

Staff Writer

Melissa Winter came home to La Jolla over the weekend. And then she turned around and went back to work on Monday, heading for a three-day swing along the West Coast with her boss, Michelle Obama.

Winter, who received The Bishop’s School’s Ellen Browning Scripps Distinguished Alumni Award at the school’s sixth annual EBS Celebration on Saturday night, serves as deputy chief of staff for the First Lady. She began working for her during the campaign when a friend suggested she apply for the job.

A veteran of the political world, who first worked in Washington while in college and knew then she wanted to work in the White House, Winter talked with the Light before the ceremony.

“My appreciation of the opportunity I’ve been given to work in the White House has not worn off,” she said. “I’m still in awe.”

An art history major with a minor in French from Skidmore College, Winter said she thought she had no real hope she’d get a job in politics. “The fact that I’ve succeeded in achieving this is amazing.”

She was also a little in awe, she noted, that she was selected to receive the Bishop’s honor.

“It feels like it should be for someone else,” she said. “There’s no question it’s a huge honor. It’s just a little ironic, (considering) I spent time struggling academically.”

It’s also a bit amazing to her mother, Patricia, who sat nearby quietly listening to the interview. When asked how she felt about her daughter’s success, Patricia teared up a bit and said, “I’m moved listening to her.”

It’s not often she gets to hear her daughter discuss her work, because when they talk the last thing the younger Winter wants to do “is rehash her day.”

Despite her self-described academic weaknesses, she said she knows from looking back what is important for anyone interested in a career in public policy.

“Learn about the country and the world. Read the newspaper at an early age,” she said.

Coincidentally, the importance of reading and watching the news was instilled in Winter by another person honored Saturday at Bishop’s: Melinda Hennessey, who was her history teacher. Hennessey received the Michael W. Teitelman Leadership Award.

(Also honored posthumously was Christiane Covington, a screenwriter and filmmaker who died in 2009 during a snorkeling accident. Family members accepted her Alumni Achievement Award.)

Winter, when asked to explain her typical day, said there’s no such thing.

Her job in the East Wing focuses on the operations side as opposed to the policy side, which she leaves to Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff and those in the West Wing.

When she’s not on the road with Mrs. Obama — which is frequently — her days generally last from about 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 or 8 at night. Mostly she gets weekends off to read and relax or go out with friends. But that laptop is always around — just in case she needs to check on details or get answers from staffers who might still be working.

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