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U.K. cousin to interior secretary: Congrats on the decorating job

Published May 30, 2014 10:20 pm

Jewell • Congratulations on landing an "interior decorating job at the White House," her British cousin wrote.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • When President Barack Obama nominated Sally Jewell to head the Interior Department last year, a British cousin was excited to dash off a celebratory email to the then-head of REI Inc.

"The Waddesdon-Washington lines of communication are a bit hazy but it seems congratulations are in order," Jewell's cousin wrote from Waddesdon, a village northwest of London. "We hear you've landed the interior decorating job at the White House."

"Not sure I'd have given up REI for it," the cousin continued. "There is a bit of a clue in the name that the job might be a little bit repetitive, but nevertheless when the president calls, you just have to load [up] your roller and go."

Jewell, a British native who was then preparing for her confirmation before the Senate, forwarded the note to the Interior Department sherpas guiding her through the process.

"I thought you might get a chuckle out of this message from one of my cousins in the U.K.," Jewell wrote. "I can always count on family (from both sides of the 'pond') to keep me down to earth."

The cousin, of course, was joking, and Jewell was easily confirmed last April to head the massive federal department that manages 500 million acres — a fifth of the United States' land area — and employs more than 70,000 people.

While the expansive grounds that surround the White House are managed by the National Park Service, a part of the Interior Department, Jewell's job description doesn't include painting over the executive mansion's Red Room, shifting around the paintings or giving the Oval Office a face-lift.

The joking email from a relative to Jewell was a bright spot in a slew of communication between Jewell and the Interior Department obtained through a government-records request.

Most often, as one would suspect, the correspondence in such a confirmation process is mundane. Can you meet with so-and-so? Here's the schedule for tomorrow. Attached are a bunch of stories about your nomination.

Jewell may not have thought of the open-records laws when she sent the cousin's note on to a government email account.

But a bit of levity during the confirmation process can't hurt.

The British relative — who may not have suspected the email would later get turned over to a journalist and whose name was redacted — probably didn't think it would hurt to make a pitch for Obama to visit the Jewell clan on vacation.

The cousin reminded the interior nominee that if she needed to get away, she could always join them in the south of France.

"You could even bring the big man himself, he would be assured of complete anonymity — most of the local[s] have just heard of America but probably think that JFK or maybe Arnold [Schwarzenegger] is president," the cousin wrote. "As long as he drinks rough red wine and eats goat's cheese I'm sure he'd get along fine. Does he play guitar?"

Jewell joked last year during a White House conference on Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage that she gets teased by her British cousins about her decorating job.

It's unclear if she has any expertise in that field but the Interior Department played along when asked about the cousin's email.

A spokesman said the secretary was unavailable to comment as she was "at the paint store picking out color swatches for the summer season."