President Obama and the First Lady aren’t Black America’s only political power couple in Washington, D.C. Standing next to Eric Holder, the newly appointed attorney general and first African-American to lead the country’s Justice Department, is his wife of 20 years, Dr. Sharon Malone. A force in her own right, Malone is an obstetrician and gynecologist who has delivered more than 500 babies in the D.C. area alone. A mother of two teens and one preteen, she says she is delighted to see a Black president in the White House. The Alabama native shares with ESSENCE.com the emotions surrounding her husband’s return to politics, the controversy over choosing not take his last name, and breaking out of the political wives’ club.
ESSENCE.COM: What did you think of your husband going to work for the Obama campaign?
SHARON MALONE: I honestly thought he was done working in public service. After 30 years in government, he was pretty free to do whatever he wanted to do. When he decided to work for Barack Obama, Barack was far from a done deal. At that point everyone thought Hillary was going to be the nominee. But he made the decision and I said ‘go for it.’
ESSENCE.COM: When did you realize he was going back to work for another presidential administration?
MALONE: I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for the past 18 months, and I didn’t fully allow myself to believe and accept it until President Obama was elected and we were in Grant Park. The attorney general possibility came up and we had little time to decide. We discussed the fact that this is a unique time in our nation’s history. Personally, it’s going to be a sacrifice, but I can’t think of a better time or a better person to lead the Justice Department than Eric Holder.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you think your husband can realistically change the Justice Department for the better?
MALONE: He’s got a lot to dig out after all the challenges the Justice Department has encountered within the last eight years, but I’m confident he can do it. When you realize the challenges are that great, you need someone who can step into the job and do it from day one. He was deputy attorney general for four years, so he already knows the job, the culture and has a good grasp on the issues. Not only that, but he has the moral center for where the Justice Department should be. The expectations, yes, they’re high, but there is probably not another person as uniquely qualified as he is to meet them.
ESSENCE.COM: You aren’t the stereotypical political wife. Did you ever consider slowing down your career to support your husband’s career?
MALONE: No, I don’t fit the mold of a traditional political wife, but that’s all changed now. You are seeing a lot more professional women with careers. But the thought of me staying home has never occurred to me. I’m the youngest of eight and my mother always worked. It’s a tough compromise. When our first child was 5 months old, Eric was sworn in as the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. The whole time he served I was having babies and delivering babies. I have worked too hard to be where I wanted to be not to pursue it to the fullest.
ESSENCE.COM: So how did you two meet?
MALONE: I met Eric exactly 20 years ago at a fundraiser right here in D.C., and a year and a few months later we were married. I had just moved here and started my residency. I was 30 years old and he was 38, so there was an advantage of him being a little older and seeing that there was some potential there.
ESSENCE.COM: You decided not to take your husband¹s last name. Why?
MALONE: A lot of it had to do with where I was professionally. I was already Dr. Malone when we got married. There was never a thought about it. Part of it was also paying homage to my parents. There had never been a Dr. Malone in our family. Eric was never pressed about it. In fact, it seems like our family and friends have had more problems with it then we have.
ESSENCE.COM: Coming from Mobile, Alabama, how have your thoughts on race changed now that we have a Black president?
MALONE: If you had asked me two years ago could this have been possible, I would say absolutely not. I’m forever colored by my experiences growing up in the segregated South. I grew up in an era where neither of my parents could vote. And the notion that we would elect an African-American, I honestly didn’t believe it. So the election and inauguration were awe-inspiring for me. I was sitting there looking at the President and First Lady and felt about as full as a person can feel. Many of us know two-parent-run successful Black families with fathers who are doing the right thing, but that’s an unfamiliar image to a lot of people. That’s the true beauty of the Obamas. They inspire people to learn more than just what’s in their immediate circle.