Kelly Craighead: Alum at The White House

Kelly Craighead, a study in poise (photo KM)
Riding in a motorcade after Mandela was sworn in as president of South Africa; holding a child in Mother Teresa's Calcutta mission; briefing Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Hillary Rodam Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton about the day's activities on a State visit in Pakistan: these are photos in Kelly Craighead's album which she brought on her return to CSU, Chico as one of seven distinguished alumni during Founders Week.

Kelly Craighead, assistant to the President of the United States and director of the advance team for First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, paused for twenty minutes to describe her relatively rapid climb from Chico State student to intimate of the First Family. Strikingly poised, direct, and articulate, Craighead, a student at CSU, Chico from 1985 to 1989, related the first stirrings of desire to work in a political campaign beginning with the presidential campaign of 1988. She was active in student government and observed first-hand the advance teams for vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentson's visit to Chico: "I was enamored with the team of young people who came to Chico ahead of the visit and organized and mobilized students. I had already had exposure to the legislative process and the political cycle through my work with the Associated Sudents. I knew then that I wanted to work in a political campaign."

Craighead sought an internship in Washington, D.C., and ended up working for an event- planning company which was run by former social secretaries that "dominated the political event scene." She described it as a huge learning experience and springboard: she was exposed to high level event-planning and fund-raising and began making contacts which would serve her in the next few years.

After her internship, Craighead accepted a job in San Francisco with a planning group for corporate incentive travel where the clients were Fortune 500 companies. In 1991, as the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls took shape, Craighead began acting on her intent to do national advance for the Democratic presidential campaign. She credits her numerous contacts that began when she was involved in student politics in Chico and continued through her internship and work experiences, as well as having the perfect preparation in event planning, with landing her a place on the national committee.

She met Rodham Clinton, worked closely on the July 1992 Convention, and helped plan the presidential inauguration. In one of her album pictures, an ebullient Bill Clinton is snapped leaving the inauguration platform—and just ahead of him, in the background, is Kelly Craighead. She described and illustrated her presence at such events as a "find Waldo" exercise: wherever there is a photograph of the Clintons at an event, if you look closely, you will find her somewhere nearby.

Craighead's first job was as a member of Rodham Clinton's advance team—the group of people that travels to a destination and plans every detail, down to appropriate dress and protocol, of a trip—and she now directs the advance team. Craighead scouts possible visits to countries or projects that further Rodham Clinton's agenda of improving women's health, education, and civil rights. She has visited over eighty countries, many of them with Rodham Clinton. Their most recent trip was to Africa this spring. Craighead mentioned South Africa, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, and Russia as some of the more memorable trips.

One of the most satisfying aspects of her job is to be involved in Rodham Clinton's work to improve the lives of women worldwide, and to be able to witness, first-hand, the changes that Clinton's efforts have made. Rodham Clinton has taken the idea of micro-enterprises, a simple concept of making small loans to independent women entrepreneurs, to several third-world countries. One of the pictures in Craighead's album is of her with children in a village in Bangladesh, a site of one of the micro-enterprise projects. Women are loaned small amounts, from $50-100. Craighead likens it to the idea of our grandmothers' "egg-money." Although small, it enables women to empower themselves. "The loan repayment rate is a phenomenal 98 percent," said Craighead.

There was little time to speak in-depth about her work, but I asked Craighead to describe one memorable experience from her travels. She related:

In South Africa, at Mandela's inauguration, we literally watched history unfold: we drove from the President's mansion through streets lined with armed military men. At the actual swearing in, two of Mandela's jailers were present, which was very moving. On the return trip, we drove the same route and there were people dancing, children singing, colorful African dress—truly, the spirit of Africa changed before our very eyes. We have returned four times since. It is amazing to see democracy unfold around the globe." Of Mandela, she said, He has a tremendous presence, almost an aura. When you see him, you know, `this is a man who has shaped the world.' He especially loves children and is very fond of Chelsea. He takes time to seek her out, talk with her, and ask her opinion. I know I have been in the presence of one of the great men of our century.


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