In naming his national health care team, President Barack Obama has named a Rockwood, Tenn., native to serve as director of the White House Office for Health Reform.
Though Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will be the public face as secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, Nancy-Ann DeParle will be guiding many of Mr. Obama's new policy moves.
Former colleagues said Ms. DeParle's elevation to a White House position comes after many years of distinguished public service.
Chattanooga attorney James Hall got to know Ms. DeParle through Democratic political circles.
He called her appointment a proud moment in Tennessee and for the University of Tennessee, where Ms. DeParle was the first female student body president.
"Obviously, she's extremely intelligent and she's a good listener and she's a very humble person," he said. "I've known her for long period of time and she's a wonderful leader and she's a wonderful mother and just outstanding."
From 1987 to 1989, Ms. DeParle was commissioner of the Department of Human Services in Tennessee under Gov. Ned McWherter.
From 1993 to 1997, she was chosen by President Bill Clinton to serve as associate director for Health and Personnel at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Nashville lawyer J.W. Luna also knew Ms. DeParle at UT. They also both served in Cabinet positions during the McWherter administration.
"I was really ecstatic to hear she was appointed," Mr. Luna said. "She's a fantastic person, a really brilliant mind who has a deep calling to public service."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.