From WSJ.com on May 14, 2008: "In one of the small, rural towns where Barack Obama was campaigning this year, he asked an aide for a slice of pecan pie to go with his usual dinner of salmon, broccoli and brown rice. But there was none on the menu, and the aide was loath to disappoint him.
Valerie Jarrett had no such qualms. Mr. Obama's even-keeled senior adviser and longtime friend told the aide to forget the pie. Then, she says, she told the senator from Illinois "to be careful what he asks for."
With Mr. Obama close to wrapping up the Democratic nomination, Ms. Jarrett, one of his oldest confidantes and someone widely tipped for a high-profile position in an Obama administration, is an adviser he can count on for unvarnished opinions.
"She is one of our best friends, somebody who is practically a sister" to him and his wife, Michelle, Mr. Obama said in a recent interview. "I don't make any major decisions without asking her about them first."
When she isn't traveling with him, Ms. Jarrett speaks to Mr. Obama two or three times a day, the candidate said. She is also an essential member of the coterie of advisers who have helped the couple navigate countless decisions, from whether he should run for president to how he should handle Hillary Clinton's resurgence after the Pennsylvania primary.
Unlike Burt Lance, who arrived from Georgia with President Carter and became his budget director, or Karen Hughes, who was President Bush's communications manager, Ms. Jarrett isn't a confidante with a particular portfolio. What she does share with these counterparts is a fierce sense of loyalty and a refusal to publicly say anything that may reflect poorly on the candidate -- or steal his thunder.
After Mr. Obama's national star began rising following his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were jockeying for position within the party. John Rogers, head of Chicago-based Ariel Investments LLC and co-chairman of Mr. Obama's Illinois finance operation, says he and Ms. Jarrett acted as intermediaries between the two men. Ms. Jarrett refused to acknowledge that tension ever existed.
When Mr. Obama's campaign went negative in Pennsylvania against Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Jarrett would say only that he was setting the record straight.
Among her more crucial pieces of advice to the campaign, said strategist David Axelrod, was to aggressively reach out to the African-American media after spending months focusing on the nearly all-white voters in Iowa. Ms. Jarrett said that outreach "was Barack's idea."
Ms. Jarrett, 51 years old, was born to an accomplished family in Chicago. Her father is a pathologist and was the first African-American to receive tenure at the University of Chicago's department of biological sciences. Her mother is a child psychologist and a former president of the Erickson Institute, a graduate school and research center. Ms. Jarrett grew up in the wealthy and integrated Hyde Park neighborhood when Chicago was among the most racially polarized cities in the country.
Throughout her career, Ms. Jarrett has straddled the divide between races, classes and the public and private sectors. As a court-appointed overseer to the desegregation of public housing in Chicago, she negotiated between the city, residents of down-and-out housing projects such as Cabrini-Green, and real-estate developers who were replacing the projects with mixed-income communities.
As the chairman of the board of the Chicago Stock Exchange, she juggled the concerns of hard-driving traders and New York bankers who bought a sizable stake in the sliding exchange.
And most recently, as a board member of the committee to bring the 2016 Summer Olympics to Chicago, she has forged cooperation between corporate leaders and the African-American community on the South Side, where most of the sporting and residential venues could be built.
Even though she has been deeply involved in Chicago housing for more than two decades, she has never been dragged into the numerous criminal investigations that have swirled in that world, including most recently the trial of one of Mr. Obama's earliest political patrons, Antoin Rezko.
On the campaign trail in North Carolina last week, Ms. Jarrett wore tailored Calvin Klein suits, diamond earrings and a sapphire on her finger the size of a Chicklet. She is typically introduced "as one of the most powerful women in Chicago," but when she speaks to young campaign volunteers she sounds like a concerned mother.
Over four stops before lunch in and around Raleigh, she encouraged volunteers to get out the vote and thanked them for trying. Twice she wiped tears from her eyes as she listened to the stories supporters told her about what Mr. Obama's candidacy means to them.
In 1991, Ms. Jarrett was a Michigan Law School-trained lawyer and head of Chicago's sprawling 250-person planning and development department. She wanted to hire a young Harvard Law School graduate from the South Side who was working in a private Chicago law practice.
But the prospect, Michelle Robinson, said she first wanted her potential boss to meet her fiancé, a savvy young lawyer named Barack Obama. The trio met at a restaurant for dinner. Ms. Jarrett -- older than both by a few years and much more established -- was grilled for two hours about Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration and who would be looking out for Michelle.
At the end of the conversation, she asked Mr. Obama "if she had passed the test." He smiled and said she had.
Mrs. Obama worked for Ms. Jarrett for two years, and the trio became fast friends. When Mr. Obama's book "Dreams From My Father" was published in 1995, Ms. Jarrett hosted a party for him.
That same year, Ms. Jarrett left the public sector and went to work for Habitat Co., one of the largest real-estate developers in Chicago. She is now the president and CEO and sits on a number of civic and corporate boards, including the committee to bring the Olympics to Chicago in 2016.
Those connections came in handy when Ms. Jarrett served as chairman of his finance committee during Mr. Obama's 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate. They also helped pave the way for Mrs. Obama's job at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where Ms. Jarrett was on the board of directors.
And if Mr. Obama wins, will she go to Washington? "I'm not thinking about that now," she said. "We're just taking care of what's in front of us."