Hinton native in running for White House post
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A West Virginia native may be tapped as the next White House budget director.
President Barack Obama is considering current Wal-Mart Foundation president Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget, according to multiple media reports.
Burwell, 47, was a senior aide in President Bill Clinton's administration, having first been named to Clinton's National Economic Council in 1993 when she was 27.
She later climbed the ranks, serving two years as former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin's chief of staff, before becoming White House deputy chief of staff, then deputy director at the budget office in 1998.
But before she was a top White House adviser, Burwell was simply Sylvia Mathews, daughter of long-time Hinton optometrist Bill Mathews and his wife Cleo.
Cleo Mathews, a former president of the state Board of Education who also served as Hinton mayor from 2001 through 2008, said the family was thrilled to hear Burwell might be nominated.
"It's an honor for her to be considered," Mathews said.
For 77-year-old Mathews, seeing her daughter in the running for White House budget director is a testament to the American Dream.
Mathews' parents were Greek immigrants who came to America to provide a better life for their children. She and her siblings were the first generation of her family to go to college.
Now her daughter - a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard graduate - has risen to the heights of U.S. government.
"She's a grandchild of poor Greek immigrants that came here and worked hard and sent their kids to college," Mathews said. "It just shows that this country works, it still works for all of us."
Mathews said her daughter's interest in politics began at a very young age.
When she was in grade school, she helped campaign for her best friend's father, who was running for Summers County Commissioner.
At 11, she and her friends volunteered to help out with Jay Rockefeller's first gubernatorial campaign.
"They were out campaigning for Jay - they were just little kids," Mathews said.
A Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar, Burwell interned with Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., before joining Democratic Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign in 1988.
During her time at the White House, some colleagues described her as a rare combination of "McKinsey analytics and West Virginia charm."
During a 1998 confirmation hearing, late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said Burwell (then just Sylvia Mathews) "has demonstrated a rare combination of diligence, knowledge and the good, down-to-earth values one acquires growing up in a West Virginia town like Hinton."
"In an agency like OMB, I suspect a person could easily get lost amongst the figures and calculations that go into setting our nation's budget," Byrd said. "But it is important to remember that every budgetary decision affects someone somewhere in some way.
"Having a person like Sylvia Mathews at OMB will ensure that the people are not forgotten," he said.
Burwell did not escape some of the controversies that surrounded the Clinton White House.
According to the Associated Press, she preserved Vince Foster's trash when the White House attorney and friend of the president committed suicide.
But during Senate hearings on the Whitewater scandal, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., praised Burwell, saying if all Clinton staff had acted as she did, the hearings might not have been needed.
After leaving the White House, Burwell focused on philanthropic efforts, leading Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation before being named president of the Wal-Mart Foundation in 2011.
Burwell currently lives near Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. with her husband Stephen and their two children.
But despite focusing on national and international affairs, Mathews said Burwell still keeps tabs on home.
Mathews said Burwell still calls home every night to check in - something she knows won't change should she get the White House post.
And she hopes her daughter's story will also inspire others to dream big and know that with hard work, they can achieve that dream.
"To me the big thing is about the opportunities, that you can get anywhere from here," Mathews said.
"She's had the privilege of working in the White House and to me that says so much about this country," she said.
"It's still the best country in the world."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.