- As executive director of the 59th Presidential Inauguration Committee, the Indian American was one of the main organizers of the Jan. 20. presidential inauguration.
An Indian American behind the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration festivities will now head the White House Military Office, providing military support for White House functions, including food service, presidential transportation, medical support, emergency medical services, and hospitality services. President Joe Biden has appointed longtime Washington operative, Maju Varghese, as his deputy assistant and director of the White House Military Office. A lawyer by training, Varghese is among more than 20 Indian Americans appointed to senior positions in the Biden-Harris administration.
A source told The Hill that Varghese “will help the Biden campaign “hum and work a little more seamlessly.” Another source said that Varghese has previously worked with many of the Biden staff he’ll manage. Similarly, a longtime Obama aide told The Hill that Varghese has “very deep experience,” as well as “great operational experience and helps professionalize the operation.”
As the executive director of the 59th Presidential Inauguration Committee, Varghese successfully directed the inauguration through the coronavirus pandemic and the threat of attacks after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. The events included the swearing-in ceremony and a star-studded “Celebrate America” concert with high-profile celebrities and hosted by actor Tom Hanks.
At the end of the day, Varghese took to Twitter: “What a way to end this incredible day,” he wrote. “In awe of this team and grateful to work all the talented, creative and determined people.
Earlier in the day, he tweeted: “President Joe Biden. Democracy prevails. Grateful for the journey to get here, for those that worked so hard for a better future and for the team @BidenInaugural that helped to make this moment possible.
On Nov. 30, after he was named to head the inauguration committee, Varghese tweeted: “Humbled and proud to serve on @BidenInaugural. It won’t be easy but being able to help plan the swearing in of an American President, when your parents grew up on the other side of the world, is an honor.”
Prior to heading the inauguration, Varghese played an important part in the Biden-Harris campaign as its chief operating officer. In that role, he ran the logistics for the nationwide campaign, mobilizing tens of thousands of staff and volunteers. He also served as a senior adviser to the former vice president.
This will be Varghese’s second spell at the White House. He previously worked during the Obama-Biden administration as President Obama’s special assistant and the deputy director of advance, a position in which he worked on organizing his travel in the U.S. and abroad., including organizing Obama’s 2015 trip to India for the Republic Day celebrations. He later became assistant to the president for administration and management overseeing the White House complex in the Obama administration.
Varghese was born in the U.S. to parents who immigrated from Thiruvalla, Kerala. It was his mother, Saroja Varghese, who first landed alone in this country as a nurse in 1972 after working with the Indian Air Force. She was later joined by her husband and elder daughter, Manju.
Varghese has taken to Twitter extensively, to share his parents immigration story.
On Oct. 26, 2020, replying to a tweet by The Week, which shared a profile on Varghese, he wrote: “The last few months of his life, my father lost the ability to stand up on his own. I plan to spend the rest of my days standing up for him, my Mom and all immigrants. Proud of my family, their journey and proud to work for @JoeBiden.”
In a Dec. 10, 2020 tweet, Varghese said, “48 yrs ago today, my Mom stepped foot in this country for the first time. With hope and hard work, a young nurse from a small town in south India changed the fortunes of generations to follow. Let’s renew the promise that brought her here. 41 days.”
Saroja Varghese told the New Indian Express that she was proud of her son, when he was appointed to head the Jan. 20 Inauguration. According to the report, Saroja Varghese worked as a nurse at Columbia University Presbyterian Hospital and Long Island Jewish Hospital. She currently lives in Florida with her elder daughter Manju and her family. After retiring, she took to writing Malayalam travelogue, autobiography and short stories.
In a Nov. 11, 2020 tweet, Varghese shared a photo of his father and him, and wrote: “I lost my Dad 6 years ago. In the years since, like @JoeBiden mentioned, I ask myself if I make him proud. This hero and my Mom gave me a shot at an amazing life and a chance to chase every dream. Like the VP said tonight, “hope never dies.” It never does. Thanks, Boss.”
A month later, on Dec. 15, 2019, he shared an old photo of his parents. “Family, faith, hope and kindness,” he wrote. “These two heroes provided a daily lesson. I can’t thank my parents enough for everything. We found this photo from around 1984, about a decade into their American journey. Miss my Dad but that hope….it never dies.”
Earlier on Aug. 14, 2019, he tweeted: “Mom, a nurse from India, logging long hours. Dad drove a cab in NYC, later worked long hours as a hospital security guard. Although we lost Dad to illness before this, our Mom got to cross the threshold to the Oval Office to meet the Boss, @BarackObama in 2017.Eternally grateful.”
Vargese studied political science and economics at the University of Massachusetts, and got his judicial law degree from Hofstra University in New York, according to his LinkedIn profile.
He met his wife, Julie, when they were both working for the former presidential candidate Al Gore’s election campaign. The couple has a 14-year-old son, Evan.
Julie Varghese is currently a policy expert with Atlantic Council and the chief administrative officer, and has over 20 years of experience in a variety of non-profit, healthcare, governmental, political, and cultural organizations. As per her bio on the Atlantic Council website, she spent ten years at New York-Presbyterian Queens Hospital as director of special events. In that role, she served as principal development officer and producer responsible for fundraising, design, and implementation of event programming for annual galas, golf classics and cultivation dinners. Her previous stints include the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and as advance staff on official foreign and political domestic trips for President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, and Vice President Al Gore. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in political science and a minor in history.
Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.