"A Conversation with Veronica Schutte, Deputy C. O. S. for the President of the United States"
I've had to reschedule this interview five times. I had almost given up hope. But, when the Deputy Chief of Staff's assistant called Thursday night at nine p.m. and said that I could have a fifteen minute slot between seven and eight a.m. the next day, I made sure I was on a red-eye flight into D.C. When I arrived at seven a.m., I was told that the senior staff meeting was running late, but that I was more than welcome to wait in the Deputy's office.
With my fourth cup of coffee, I sat down in the guest chair, looking around the office. Some people might be under the assumption that Ronnie Schutte is a man---especially since this position is usually held by a man---but one look around her personal space makes it perfectly clear: she's definitely a woman, and you probably wouldn't want to mess with her.
There are no framed photographs on her desk, but there are a couple on her walls, between the degrees, newspaper clippings, and pieces of art. Her desk is cluttered---but it looks like an organised clutter, papers and folders stacked in piles around the large mahogany surface. By leaning forward, I can see that she has a Donna Karan dress hanging in her closet and Monolo Blahnik sandals are on the floor below it---confirming what we already know about the great sense of style that she brought to the Presidential campaign.
She comes in making little noise, bearing two cups of coffee. After profusely apologising for being late, in an accent I can't quite place, she sits down in the guest chair next to me and grins.
"So. Charlotte cleared you," she comments, eyeing my press pass. Then, she flips her blonde hair over her shoulder, laughs, and leans in closer to ask: "What do you want to know?"
Easy to talk to, Veronica handles my questions in a relaxed manner that runs counter to the attitude she's known for showing on the Hill. She talks about her parents easily, and I can't help but think she's very proud of them. Her father, Eric Schutte, she says, introduced her to politics---of dentistry. He was heavily involved with the American Dental Association (ADA) and the World Dental Federation (FDI), while running his own practice in Seattle. Her mother, Leah Schutte, is a lawyer with a speciality in international law and she helped Veronica see the bigger picture---something, Veronica admits, she always has trouble doing.
"I get so focused on little details. But, I blame that on my undergraduate classes."
After leaving Saint James School in Maryland, she went to UC Berkeley where she achieved a B.A. with an Honours in History and a M.A. in Science History. She wrote her thesis on the policy decisions surrounding the fluoridation of water in the 1940s. After taking a year off, to travel and visit family in Canada and Europe, she went back to the academic grindstone. This time, it was at Harvard University---for a Law degree.
She didn't jump into government immediately. Instead, she worked for both the ADA, as the head of the legal department, and the FDI, as the head of the office for the President. After those two jobs, she started working on political campaigns---which allowed her to work on government staffs. After working for municipal government in Annapolis, MD, and then several Congressional staff positions, which lead to Senate campaigns and finally, her role on the President's campaign and her position on his senior staff.
Does she have any regrets?
"No," she replies, after a contemplative sip from her cup of coffee. "I kept myself from becoming what I didn't want to be... and I've been given incredible opportunities to be a part of the process. I wouldn't give any of those up."
What about a family of her own?
She frowns. "I don't need another person to complete me... my parents raised me to be self-sufficient. Starting a family has never been a priority. If it happens, it happens---but it will have to be after I'm done here." Veronica's lips turn into a tiny smile. "I want to be here. Good things are happening here."
We talk for a few more minutes, and then Veronica walks me out to the lobby. It is very hard to believe that she's the same woman that wrestles with Congress and the Senate on a daily basis---until Alex Gannon, the Communications Director, stops her by passing her a newspaper. Her eyes change slightly, and then she stiffens, excusing herself before storming off to her office. I can hear her voice reverberate off of the walls as she yells at her assistant.
But, I'm sure she'll learn a lot.
Written by Rita Granger, for New Woman Magazine. March 10, 2005.