Alumni & Friends
San Francisco native Elmy Bermejo (B.A., '78) was raised with the expectation that hard work would pay off. After every school day, she and her four siblings worked in her immigrant father's popular Richmond District Mexican restaurant, Tommy's, doing everything from peeling potatoes and drying forks to serving customers.
"It kept us out of trouble!" she says. "If we asked, 'Hey dad, can we go to a party?' He'd give us the same line: 'We didn't come here to have a great time, we came
here to work.'" And so she did.
Today, Bermejo works in Washington, D.C., directing Intergovernmental Affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor. President Barack Obama appointed her to the position in October 2010.
Affable and down-to-earth, Bermejo can put anyone at ease. It's a valuable trait in her line of work. She credits her ability to connect with others to her experience working among customers at the family restaurant and to the degree she earned in psychology.
"I thought it would be interesting to learn what made people tick," says Bermejo, of choosing her degree. "And that's what helped me most in politics, because it's all about people. Whether they're customers or constituents, you're taking care of their needs."
The oldest of her siblings, Bermejo built on her connections, working her way up through a series of positions and appointments during her 25-year-career in public service. She's worked for some of the most progressive and charismatic politicians, from her early days in former Senator Alan Cranston's office to her years with former Senator John Burton (B.A., '54), to her job as deputy secretary of external affairs for former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Bermejo, who has received numerous honors for her advocacy and public service -- including being named the League of Women Voters' "A Woman Who Could Be President" -- recalls those days with fondness.
"It wasn't just big politics, it was about human attention. John was great about this; he would talk and listen, even if he got impatient!" Bermejo says, laughing.
The admiration is mutual. Burton can't say enough about her: "The biggest asset in life is being a genuinely nice person. And she's it. I can't bump into anyone without them saying, 'Hey, I know you! You worked with Elmy.' She's extra special."
When her appointment ends, Bermejo hopes to return to San Francisco. She misses her family and the restaurant. Before her father died in early 2011, she says, he called her in Washington and said, "It sounds like you're having a good time. That's good, Elmy. Stay there if you think you can do good things."