Looking Back: The 2009 Inauguration with the Bidens

  • Written By:Bobbi Brown
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A few weeks ago I came across the obituary of Lillian Brown, a makeup artist who worked with nine presidents throughout her decades-long career. She was one of the first image consultants and TV makeup artists in Washington, working not only with presidents, but with journalists, members of congress and first ladies.

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Lillian Brown with Jimmy Carter

My goal is to make people look exactly like themselves.

- Lillian Brown

She had a knack for making everyone from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Clinton look their best during speeches, debates and television appearances, but what really resonated with me about Lillian’s story, was her approach to makeup. She told the New York Times: “Unlike high-fashion makeup artists who want to make a person look as glamorous as possible, my goal is to make people look exactly like themselves.” I love that — I’ve always believed that makeup should make you look like you.

Learning her story brought me back to my work with the Biden’s at the Inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. Never in a million years did I expect to have a bird’s-eye-view of the most important part of Inauguration Day.

In 2008, I served as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. My oldest son, Dylan, then a high school senior, was a page and my husband, Steven, came with us. Besides being a New Jersey delegate, I ended up doing the Bidens’ makeup. I hit it off with Dr. Jill and Mama Biden, the girls and the cousins, and Joe’s sister. Their code name for me was ‘Bobbi Biden.’ I was literally with them the whole time.

Dr. Jill Biden had written to me asking me to do her makeup for the Inauguration. It was a couple of months before Obama even won, so I was a little superstitious. I didn’t even call her back until they won. (I have her letter framed in my office.) I knew this was going to be big, really big, like the Oscars on steroids. I reserved a hotel room in November and got my team together.

The day of the inauguration, my day started at 6AM, when I went to the hotel to start getting Vice President Biden’s sister and daughters ready, and then Dr. Biden. Then someone said, “The Vice President-Elect is ready for you, Bobbi.” He comes over with this big smile, the kind that just lights up the room.

He shakes my hand and says, “I’ve heard so much about you.”

He sits in the chair and I ask, “What do I call you?”

He grabs my arm and he says, ‘Call me Joe.” After he’s sworn in, I ask, “What do I call you now?” and he says, “You’ve got to still call me Joe.”

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It is a day that I will treasure and remember with joy and excitement, for the rest of my life.

- Bobbi Brown

They gave me a special pass to get into the Capitol so I could touch up Dr. Biden as needed. Having this access, walking around the Capitol like that, was really cool. Dr. Biden’s Chief of Staff, Cathy, helped me navigate from place to place. I felt like a little kid who was having a really great surprise party. It didn’t make sense that I was so close to the heart of the activity, but it was really a magical moment.

I felt the power that came with the significance of Barack Obama becoming our president. I think everyone who was watching felt it, whether they were part of the amazing crowd on the National Mall, or whether they were watching from their own home or their office.

It is a day that I will treasure and remember with joy and excitement, for the rest of my life, even if I never fully understand how I got to that very special viewing place for a very special and personal perspective.

If you are able, I encourage you to make your voice heard and vote in our upcoming election. You can find information about registration, voting by mail and more at Vote.org.

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