Michelle Obama: new style of first lady

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Michelle Obama brings the skills of a corporate lawyer to the White House as first lady to President-elect Barack Obama, but she says her priority will be her role as “mom-in-chief” to the couple’s two daughters.

Democrat Obama beat Republican John McCain in Tuesday’s election. He will be the first black U.S. president and his wife the first black first lady.

Michelle Obama, 44, was a passionate advocate for her husband’s candidacy, but she says she would not want a direct policy role in an Obama administration.

“My first job, in all honesty, is going to continue to be ‘mom-in-chief,’” she said in a recent magazine interview referring to daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.

She also says she hopes to focus ways women maintain a work-family balance and the needs of military families, and she could act as an informal adviser to her husband as she has been during the campaign.

Obama, who grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood on the south side of Chicago and went to public school, often talks about her father -- who worked for the city’s public water system -- and the values instilled by her parents.

After winning scholarships to the elite universities of Princeton and Harvard law school, Obama worked for a law firm and in the Chicago mayor’s office.

Her most recent job was vice president of the University of Chicago hospitals, where she earned more than her husband. Even though the Obamas are now well off, partly due to royalties from Barack Obama’s two books, Michelle Obama stresses the values she learned growing up.

“When you are raised in a home ... (in which) you have love and security and you have people who are sacrificing for you ... you have an obligation to give back,” she said. “That’s why community service has been such a big part of my life.”

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden hold hands as they arrive onto the stage following Obama's speech during his election night rally after being declared the winner of the 2008 presidential election in Chicago November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young


In his victory speech Tuesday night, Barack Obama described his wife as “my best friend for the last 16 years, the rock of our family, the love of my life.” He says she has been a source of strength and a gentle critic who keeps him grounded.

Their public displays of affection and her fashion sense -- she has been featured in magazines such as Vogue and Essence -- contribute to the candidate’s youthful image.

In a widely praised speech at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama shared details of the couple’s life together and said her husband represented typical American values.

“What struck me when I first met Barack was that even though he had this funny name, and even though he’d grown up all the way across the continent in Hawaii, his family was so much like mine,” she said.

“He was raised by grandparents who were working-class folks like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did.”

Michelle Obama has receded from the limelight since the convention, even though she draws large crowds while campaigning solo for her husband.

She is immensely popular with Democrats who warm to the strength and smartness she projects, but in February she stirred controversy with comments she made on the campaign trail.

“For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country,” she told an audience in Wisconsin. “And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

Conservatives criticized her as insufficiently patriotic and the dispute angered some black Americans who said they are held to a higher standard of patriotism. Resistance to racial injustice, they said, has often been cast as unpatriotic.

Since then, Michelle Obama has spent time supporting the families of U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a recent speech in Denver, she reflected on the campaign and the fact that her husband was within striking distance of the White House.

“We would have not have gotten to this point in time in our nation’s history without all of you because something miraculous happened over this year,” she told the audience.

“That is something new and it is something quite important. So I am proud of my country and I am proud of my husband.”

Editing by Michael Christie, Bill Trott and Jackie Frank