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January 28, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 28, 2005

Former White House official is university's new voice Former White House official is university's new voice (January 28, 2005)

David F. Demarest's experience includes government and corporate relations

by Jocelyn Dong

Stanford University has appointed a new vice president for public affairs, David F. Demarest, a former White House communications director under President George H. W. Bush.

Demarest will direct the university's government, media and community relations and report to President John Hennessy as of March 1. He replaces Gordon Earle, who left the post last year.

Throughout Demarest's professional career, the 53-year-old, New Jersey-native has leapt at opportunities, from getting into politics to relocating to the Bay Area -- and the Stanford position is no exception. Hennessy's office first contacted Demarest two weeks ago. His appointment was announced Wednesday.

The first 20 years of Demarest's career centered around government. He began his political work at Upsala College in New Jersey, successfully running for student body president on a platform of fair rights for commuter students, launching a crisis intervention hotline and implementing student evaluations of faculty.

"What I found was, I loved it," he said in an interview from his Sausalito home this week. "I really got jazzed about making things happen."

He entered Drew University as a graduate student in political science, and started working on the U.S. Congressional campaign of progressive Republican Millicent Fenwick. He began as her driver -- "the greatest job for a first-timer in politics," he said -- then graduated to a job analyzing statistics and evaluating election opportunities.

Fenwick, the model for comic strip Doonesbury's character Lacey Davenport, won the election, and Demarest's reputation for having a good political sense was born, he said. That was enough for the budding political worker to drop out of graduate school.

"I never did finish my master's. I got this bug," he explained.

He worked for another campaign and, from there, became involved in the Republican National Committee as it tried to rebuild itself in the mid-1970s. It was an experience he simply called, "fabulous."

Under the leadership of Bill Brock, he traveled the country helping Republican candidates boost their campaigns.

"I can't tell you how many kitchens I've sat in in the country, talking with a candidate and his/her family. The thing that was so inspiring about it, as opposed to what happens with candidates who are too full of themselves, was these were citizen legislators. They felt this was their civic duty."

In the 1980s, Demarest followed Brock into the U.S. Office of Trade and later the Labor Department. He worked as campaign manager for Vice President George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign, and became White House communications director in 1989, where he was responsible for overseeing the speechwriting staff of six and serving as liaison to the public.

Those four years were challenging, exhilarating and surreal, according to Demarest.

"It did go from the sublime to the ridiculous. There were times it was wonderful to be a fly on the wall of history," he said, recalling the Madrid Conference for Middle East Peace sponsored by Bush and USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Other times, as public liaison, he found himself in odder circumstances, such as introducing pop star Michael Jackson -- who wanted to see Lincoln's bedroom -- to the President.

Looking back on the experience, he recalled the high-pressure atmosphere of the White House, and also the sacrifices his colleagues made to the work.

"It's something I can't imagine doing ever again. I don't miss it. (But) I'm glad I had that experience," he said. Although he keeps up with the senior Bushes, he has no connection with the current administration, he said.

Demarest now calls the Bay Area home, having accepted a job at BankAmerica Corporation as executive vice president and director of corporate communications following Bush's term.

"In my career, I've been attracted to organizations that have some core values and (have a) significant impact on the world around them," he said, citing the use of credit cards to help the economic development of Third World countries.

He opted to stay in the Bay Area after BankAmerica was acquired by NationsBank ("I got bit by politics, then I got bit by the Bay Area," he said) and went to work for VisaUSA as executive vice president for global corporate relations. Last year, he founded his own consulting firm, which he was just getting off the ground when Stanford came knocking.

Because of his quick courtship with the university, Demarest said he's still coming up to speed on the controversies and challenges that the institution faces. But he plans to meet with stakeholders to understand their perceptions, and what drives them.

"That's what this role is partly about -- to be very cognizant of public perceptions stakeholders have for an institution. Some may be negative, some positive," he said.

He also believes in building goodwill by uncovering and communicating the positive impacts the institution is having on the greater community.

"Stanford's is a world class institution," he said. "It took me about a nanosecond" to accept the offer.

About Demarest, Hennessy said: "David brings a rare blend of managerial skills and experience in public affairs, government relations and communications to the job."

In his spare time Demarest, a divorced father of two teenage girls, said he enjoys backpacking, mountain climbing, fishing and writing piano music. He plans to commute from Sausalito. Senior Staff Writer Jocelyn Dong can be reached at [email protected]

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