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Meeting the Obamas

Our deputy editor interviews the president and first lady

Meeting the president and first lady is momentous for almost anyone. But for Deputy Editor Marilyn Milloy, spending time with Barack and Michelle Obama — she interviewed the president for his 50th birthday, and talked to Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden for "Moms on a Mission" — was especially surreal.

See also: Barack Obama talks about Medicare and turning 50.

AARP The Magazine Deputy Editor Marilyn Milloy at a White House tea in honor of military families hosted by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.

AARP The Magazine Deputy Editor Marilyn Milloy with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden. — Photo by: Art Streiber

As a young black girl growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana, Marilyn remembers sitting in the "colored" section of the movie theater, attending segregated schools, and getting her ice-cream cones from the back entrance of the refreshment stand. So visiting the White House of the first African American First Family was a "dramatic marker of how the world has changed."

"We'd all struggled on different levels — the Obamas and me and those before us. So there was a distinct feeling of the familiar, which made the interviews oddly comfortable," Marilyn says. "The experience left me in awe of the power of people to change the arc of history."

Marilyn's own arc has been pretty remarkable. Driven by her passion to give "a voice to the powerless, the invisible among us," she earned a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University in 1982. Later, as a newspaper reporter for Newsday — where she covered the political campaigns of both Jesse Jackson and white supremacist David Duke — she won a prestigious Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University. She joined AARP The Magazine as a features editor in 2007, helped lead us to our first National Magazine Award in 2008, and in 2009 took over as deputy editor.

How does she juggle her competing roles as editor, daughter, wife, and mom to teenagers Cameron and Savannah? Easy: She turns to her "smart, funny, and tireless" husband, Joe, 58, a historian who coincidentally teaches at Northern Virginia Community College, alongside Jill Biden. "There's no better balm for the soul during times of stress and uncertainty than nurturing relationships with the people you love," says Marilyn, who occasionally also gives in to a glass of wine and John Coltrane music. "And getting in a few good belly laughs."

But her most profound life lessons have come from her mom, Blanche, 84, a former schoolteacher who grew up picking cotton on a South Carolina farm, and her dad, Courtland, 87, a photographer and printer from Earle, Arkansas. Says Marilyn, 55: "They taught me that I'm not above or beneath anybody — and that I stand to gain as much, or more, from folks who live in society's shadows as from those on top of the world."

You may also like: 5 Genealogy Secrets.

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