Ruth Renee Stone ’85

A Hectic Interior Life

By Mary Seymour ’80

Ruth Renee Stone in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, DC.

Renee Stone is a very busy woman. Snagging an interview with her is like trying to catch a rare animal—a Florida panther, say, or an ocelot. She has 30 minutes to talk while driving from Washington, DC to her home in Chevy Chase. Not that she doesn’t want to chat more—she’s just, well, overloaded.

“It’s still a little chaotic, but I’m having a really good time,” she said of life in the US Department of the Interior, where she was appointed deputy chief of staff in January. The department is deep in the midst of transition, with a recently appointed interior secretary, Ken Salazar, and staffing shakeups that go along with a change in the administration.

“My appointment was a wild surprise and honor to me,” said Stone, typically modest in spite of her gold-standard credentials. A lawyer who spent eight years working for the Interior Department during the Clinton presidency, she served in such roles as associate solicitor for parks and wildlife and chief of staff of the National Park Service.

Now her days are spent in a blur of meetings (eight standing meetings a day, for starters), calls from the Cabinet Affairs Office at the White House, interviews with potential political staff, and management of five offices. “My job is hard to define,” she said. “It’s rather a joke between the chief of staff and me that I do whatever he doesn’t want to do.”

Since the Interior Department manages roughly one-fifth of all the land in the United States, there’s never a shortage of things to accomplish. One of Stone’s chief responsibilities is handling what she calls the “issue of the day,” which can be anything from getting testimony for a hearing on the Hill to deciding how to operate a dam.

Stone works 10 hours or more a day, but is diligent about coming home in time to have dinner with her husband and two sons. Sometimes, however, duty calls on off days. Stone recalls one Saturday morning spent at a White House meeting for chiefs of staff. Visibly unhappy to be working on a Saturday, the chiefs brightened when President Obama made a surprise appearance to discuss their pet causes. “That turned out to be a pretty cool way to spend a Saturday,” Stone said.

Stone’s environmental bent leads in a straight line back to Rollins, where she earned academic credit writing for the Florida Audubon Society magazine. That work fueled her interest in wildlife management and land-use issues; saving sea turtles was one of the many hands-on projects she tackled. She then earned the high honor of a Rhodes Scholarship, resulting in a master’s in history at the University of Oxford.

Returning from England, she was torn about her future. “Should I get a Ph.D. in history and live on the intellectual side of my life, or should I get a law degree and work for environmental issues?” she wondered. The latter won out: “I made the decision because of the work I’d done at Audubon when I was at Rollins.”

Stone’s office in the Interior Department building faces the National Mall; from her window she can see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Both sit on Park Service land, which is stewarded by the Interior Department. A seasoned administrator, Stone knows the winds of change are always blowing. “The nature of a political job,” she said, “is that one day there are different people in power, and you’re gone.”

Gone, yes, but undoubtedly in the case of Renee Stone, on to greater challenges.