Nancy-Ann Min DeParle

UT Knoxville, ’78

Nancy-Ann Min DeParle

While traveling on Air Force One in May 2012, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, assistant to the U.S. president and deputy White House chief of staff for policy, learned that President Barack Obama had selected fellow University of Tennessee alumna Pat Summitt to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Obama turned to DeParle and said, “I know you want to do this,” in telling DeParle she would make the phone call to Summitt to inform her of the award.

“She’s a hero of mine,” DeParle says.

Raised in Rockwood, Tennessee, by a single mother, DeParle attended UT Knoxville as anAndy Holt Scholar and supported by a Pell grant. In addition to being named a Torchbearer, she made history at the university by serving as its first female student body president her senior year. In 1978, Glamour magazine named her one of the year’s top 10 college women.

While in high school, she watched her mother undergo cancer treatments, afraid of losing her job and health insurance. When her mother died during Christmas break in DeParle’s freshman year in college, she remained silent about her loss. But a relative notified her academic advisor, who told her professors. She also found strength in her Delta Gamma sorority sisters.

“I had support from the faculty, administrators and other students,” she says. “They were like family. That’s part, I think, of what makes Tennessee so special.”

DeParle also was named a Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford University, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1981. She graduated from Harvard University Law School in 1983.

She was working at a Nashville law firm when Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter selected her to be commissioner of the state’s Department of Human Services. Then, in President Bill Clinton’s administration, she was administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

DeParle was back in the private sector when the call came to head the White House Office of Health Reform and lead President Obama’s health-care initiative, which she initially refused.

“When push comes to shove, I didn’t want to look back with regret that I didn’t help,” she says. “Being a Tennessean and a Volunteer, that sort of rubs off on you. This was a way I could serve.”

DeParle is a partner in Consonance Capital, a private equity healthcare investment firm.

Part of the Tennessee Alumnus100 Distinguished Alumni feature.