Biography of Sally Jewell, Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior

A British-American and Avid Outdoorswoman

Interior Secretary Sally Jewel delivering a speech
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Sally Jewell (born Feb. 21, 1956) served as the 51st U.S. secretary of the interior from 2013 until 2017. Appointed by President Barak Obama, Jewell was the second woman to hold the position after Gale Norton, who served under President George W. Bush.

As secretary of the Department of the Interior, Jewell knew the territory she oversaw—the great outdoors. An avid skier, kayaker, and hiker, Jewell was the only cabinet agency head to have climbed Mount Rainier seven times and to have scaled Mount Vinson, the highest mountain in Antarctica.

Fast Facts: Sally Jewell

  • Known For: She served as the 51st U.S. secretary of the interior from 2013 until 2017. Jewell won acclaim for her Every Kid initiative, which made every fourth-grade student in the nation and their families eligible for a free one-year pass to every U.S. national park.
  • Also Known As: Sarah Margaret Roffey
  • Born: Feb. 21, 1956 in London, England
  • Parents: Anne (née Murphy) and Peter Roffey
  • Education: University of Washington (B.S. in Mechanical Engineering)
  • Awards and Honors: National Audubon Society's Rachel Carson Award, Woodrow Wilson Center's Award for Public Service, named to Sound Greenway Trust's Hall of Fame, named a 2012 Woman of Distinction from the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, University of Washington 2016 Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Spouse: Warren Jewell
  • Notable Quote: "When you take on something like your footprint on the environment, you have to say, 'Where am I going to draw the circle around my level of responsibility and then where do I assume that others will take responsibility?'"

Personal Life and Education

Born Sally Roffey in England on Feb. 21, 1956, Jewell and her parents moved to the United States in 1960. She graduated in 1973 from Renton (Wash.) High School, and in 1978 she was awarded a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington.

Jewel is married to engineer Warren Jewell. When not in D.C. or scaling mountains, the Jewells live in Seattle and have two grown children.

Business Experience

After graduating from college, Jewell used her training as a petroleum engineer working for Mobile Oil Corp. in the Oklahoma and Colorado oil and gas fields. After working at Mobile, Jewell was employed in corporate banking. For over 20 years, she worked at Rainier Bank, Security Pacific Bank, West One Bank, and Washington Mutual.

From 2000 until she took over as secretary of the interior, Jewell served as president and chief executive officer of REI (Recreation Equipment, Inc.), a retailer of outdoor recreation equipment and services. During her tenure, Jewell helped REI grow from a regional sporting goods store to a nationwide retailing enterprise with annual sales of more than $2 billion. The firm is consistently listed among the 100 best companies to work for, according to Fortune Magazine.

Environmental Experience

Besides being an avid outdoorswoman, Jewell served on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association and helped to found Washington State’s Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

In 2009, Jewell won the National Audubon Society's prestigious Rachel Carson Award for leadership in and dedication to conservation.

Nomination and Senate Confirmation

Jewell’s nomination and Senate confirmation process was swift and without notable opposition or controversy. On Feb. 6, 2013, ​Jewell was nominated by President Obama to succeed Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior. On March 21, 2013, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved her nomination by a 22-3 vote. On April 10, 2013, the Senate confirmed her nomination, 87-11.

Tenure as Secretary of the Interior

Jewell’s knowledge and appreciation of the outdoors served her well as she managed the activities of a 70,000-employee agency responsible for more than 260 million acres of public land—nearly one-eighth of all land in the United States—as well as all of the nation’s mineral resources, national parks, federal wildlife refuges, Western water resources, and the rights and interests of Native Americans.

During her term, Jewell won acclaim for her Every Kid initiative, which made every fourth-grade student in the nation and their families eligible for a free one-year pass to every U.S. national park. In 2016, her final year in office, Jewell spearheaded a program expediting the issuance of permits allowing youth organizations to explore public wildlands on overnight or multi-day trips, particularly in less popular parks.

During her time as interior secretary, Jewell opposed local and regional bans on “fracking,” a controversial process where oil drillers inject millions of gallons of water, sand, salts, and chemicals into shale deposits or other subsurface rock formations at extremely high pressure to fracture rock and extract raw fuel. Jewell said local and region bans were taking regulation of oil and gas recovery in the wrong direction. "I think it’s going to be very difficult for industry to figure out what the rules are if different counties have different rules," she said in early 2015.

Post-Government Service

After her stint as interior secretary, Jewel joined the board of Bellevue-based life insurance company Symetra. The firm (as of February 2018) is owned by Tokyo-based Sumitomo Life Insurance Co., though it continues to operate independently.

She also returned to the University of Washington, where one of her tasks is helping shape the future of EarthLab, a new university-wide institute that seeks to connect scholars with community partners to solve environmental problems. “By coming to the university, I’m trying to help students understand how you can create a future that’s both economically successful and environmentally sustainable—one that you are proud to leave to future generations,” Jewell said upon accepting the position.

In her role with EarthLab, Jewel is serving as chair of its advisory council, which seeks to raise awareness about the initiative in the community.