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Eleanor Connie Mariano, White House Physician

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2001. For more than eight years, a Filipino-American has been making sure that the world's most powerful person is physically fit to do his work. Her name is Eleanor "Connie" Mariano, a 45-year-old physician and a top-ranking officer of the US Navy. Mariano is the director of the White House medical unit attending to the health of President Bill Clinton.

With only two months left in President Clinton's term, Mariano will pursue her duty as rear admiral of the US Navy, the highest military post ever occupied by a Filipino-American woman in the mighty US Armed Forces. First Lady Hillary Clinton, who has just won a seat in the senate in the recent elections, personally thanked Mariano for her service to the American nation. "Our family loves you and we're grateful to you," Mrs. Clinton told Mariano in a ceremony tended for her last June.

President Clinton promoted Mariano as rear admiral of the US Navy last June. On that occasion, Mariano narrated how her Filipino family romanced their own American dream. "I am pleased to stand before you today as proof that Filipino-Americans in the Navy no longer must go through the kitchen, the back door or the garage,"

"I came to the White House by way of the kitchen," she said, brimming with pride. "I came from a family of Navy stewards. The first Mariano who served in the United States Navy joined in the 1920s. At that time and for many years thereafter, the only way Filipinos were able to serve in the Navy was as stewards. The Mariano men served with pride and accumulated a total of over 100 years of service among them."

''My father had served six admirals in their homes,'' Mariano said. ''So, 45 years later, for this to happen in my family is quite an honor.''

Mariano was born at the former Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Pampanga in 1955. She was only two years old when her parents, Angel and Lu Mariano, immigrated to the United States in 1957. Her father served in the US Navy as a steward, one of the few military jobs available to Filipinos at that time. He retired as a master chef after serving 29 years. Mariano's four Filipino godfathers were also Navy master chefs.

To them, Mariano had this to say: "Thank you for reminding me daily that I owe my presence here to people like you and my father who paved the way. Thank you for never letting me forget about the qualities of kindness, silent service, loyalty and humility."

"The Navy meant many things to my family. It meant freedom from poverty, for my father's family was very poor. The Navy meant the opportunity to succeed. The Navy meant hope that one day your children would get an education and perhaps boldly dream of becoming physicians or naval officers. The Navy meant all the good things America had to offer," she said.

Mariano grew up in Imperial Beach near the Mexican border. She graduated valedictorian from Mar Vista High School in 1973 and cum laude from Revelle College at the University of California where she obtained a degree in Biology in 1977. She earned her medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland in 1981.

Mariano was also certified by the American College of Surgeons in advanced trauma life support and in advanced cardiac life support.

Following an internship in Internal Medicine at San Diego Naval Hospital in 1982, Mariano was assigned as the General Officer on board USS Prairie where she served as the sole physician for a ship's company of 750 men and women. She then developed a mass casualty-training program, which earned her ship the title of "Benchmark Ship in Mass Casualty Control" for two consecutive years during her tour. In 1991, she was selected as the hospital's head of internal medicine.

In June 1992, she became the first military woman to serve as White House physician under President George Bush. When he got elected, President Clinton asked her to stay and even promoted her as Senior White House Physician in February 1994 and director of the White House Medical Unit.

President Clinton said he had qualms when Mariano, a member of the medical staff in the Bush administration, was proposed to be his full-time physician in the first months of his administration. "This woman's going to be poking around on me for eight years," Mr. Clinton said he thought at that time. He noted that she now has served in a stressful job longer than any other White House physician.

By attending to two American presidents for more than eight years, Mariano is by far the longest serving White House physician in American history. She is also the first woman commander of the White House Medical Unit.

Mariano is married to American lawyer Richard Stevens. They have two sons - Jason and Andrew.

Recently, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations honored Mariano for her remarkable achievements. "As the daughter of a former Filipino U.S. Navy steward, she (Mariano) is a living proof that no matter what a person's background is, we can aspire for top leadership positions in the U.S. government," the federation said.

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