After Obama White House, Philly native ponders next move

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose with Social Secretary Deesha Dyer following a State Dinner at the White House, Sept. 25, 2015.

President Trump's Inauguration Day was Philly native Deesha Dyer's last official day as White House social secretary.

Tradition has it, though, that the outgoing social secretary formally welcomes her successor. So, earlier this month, Dyer hosted a dinner for Melania Trump's pick, Anna Cristina Niceta Lloyd. Guests included previous social secretaries, including those under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.

Days later, she was back in Philadelphia, where I caught up with her for a long-awaited lunch. I wanted her thoughts on the angst leading up to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, but Dyer had warned that she wouldn't discuss anything involving the new administration.

But she did offer a little insight into what life is like inside the proverbial White House bubble. She also shared stories about her stint with the Obama administration, such as the time she pocketed paper napkins with the presidential seal while aboard Air Force One, and when she once danced with President Barack Obama to a Beyoncé song, only to have him joke about her moves.  As someone still in withdrawal mode from the Obama era, I could have listened to Dyer talk about the former president and his wife all day.

"They became, like, mentors to me.  And not just mentors in the professional sense, but also mentors in the personal sense," recalled Dyer, 39. 

"Working for them made me very detailed.  It made me not procrastinate," she added. "You don't have that luxury at the White House of being that way."

Dyer was an unconventional choice. Only the second African American in the job, she stood out from her predecessors - and not just because of her nose ring. She also lacks Ivy League credentials and the well-heeled connections common among others who held the position.

She was a secretary for the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, a freelance hip-hop writer, and a student at Community College of Philadelphia in 2009 when she filled out an application for a White House internship.  To her surprise, she got the internship and wound up in the White House scheduling office. 

She rose quickly, becoming associate director of scheduling correspondence and hotel director before joining the Office of the Social Secretary as a deputy. That office assists the first lady with  event planning, doing everything from making guest lists to coordinating with the State Department. In a city where whom you know is practically everything, it's  one of the most glamorous jobs.

Shortly after her appointment, Dyer  was charged with overseeing Pope Francis' historic 2015 visit to the White House. She was so nervous  about all of the street closures  that she slept on an air mattress in her office the night before, to ensure she was in place by 4 a.m.  

The next day, she hosted a  high-stakes visit by  President  Xi Jinping of China. An hour before the festivities  were to start, Dyer realized her  dress was wrong. She raced  into a nearby Macy's, where she purchased a black gown with gold detailing. 

"If I do my job correctly, no one will care about what I'm wearing," Dyer told me.  "It's Mrs. Obama's night."

Smart lady.  Dyer never lost sight of what her role was through the other state dinners and high-profile events that followed, including performances by Beyoncé and the cast of the Broadway musical Hamilton.

Even during that dreary, heart-wrenching morning when the Obamas said goodbye to the staff and hosted the Trumps at a ritual tea that must have been awkward, Dyer stayed in professional mode.  She must have wanted to boo-hoo, but didn't. Dyer was among the small group that  accompanied the Obamas on their flight to California. Afterward, she returned to her single-girl apartment.

"It was hard," Dyer said, "...because of who was coming in." 

Dyer recently signed with Outspoken Agency speakers bureau and has started a consulting firm to create and structure events. Dyer also is spending more time with a Philly-based nonprofit she cofounded  in 2014 called beGirl.world.com, a mentoring group for local girls that encourages them to explore  internationally. "Right now, I'm just breathing and figuring out my next move," she told me.

If it's  like her last one, it'll be huge. 

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