2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient announced
This year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award is Laura Dowling, a 1979 graduate of Centralia College. She is the college's 36th Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient and will be officially introduced and honored at the 2013 commencement ceremony on June 14th. Dowling has a passion for nature’s beauty and a gift for design. First Lady Michelle Obama appointed Dowling in 2009 as the White House chief floral designer.
“I am really honored by this award. I had such a wonderful experience at Centralia College, participating in academic, theatrical and athletic pursuits. It is amazing and humbling to join such a distinguished group,” said Dowling.
As the nation’s top floral designer, Dowling is responsible for the creation of a signature White House floral style. Her goal is to transcend fads and trends to articulate an original style that includes classic and modern elements.
On a daily basis she manages, plans, and implements décor and flowers for a broad range of White House events, including state dinners, parties, and receptions, as well as the White House Christmas. Her work includes creating flower arrangements for the White House state rooms, East and West Wing offices, and the private residences.
It is worth noting that Dowling trained for a far different world.
She majored in social sciences with a goal of pre-law education. She went on to the University of Washington, earned an undergraduate degree in political science and Master of Public Administration. She was selected for a graduate public policy internship in the U.S. Senate based on a statewide competition among graduate students. She was on track for a career in government service.
With that career on its ascendency, Dowling became the Development and Congressional Relations officer for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where she coordinated fundraising and lobbying efforts for this international affairs think tank located within the Smithsonian Institution. She held that position from 1985 until 1998. From 1999–2009, she was Senior Manager of Strategic Communications at The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental non-profit agency.
In 2000, Dowling took her first trip to Paris and spent a lot of time studying French floral arrangements. It was an epiphany and Plan B began to gain a foothold in her life’s ambition. She was hooked on floral artistry.
That same year Dowling launched a part-time independent design company in her home-based studio, focusing on flowers for weddings, parties, and events. She created floral concepts and décor for private, corporate and official government events in Washington, D.C.
When the former White House floral designer retired, Dowling applied for the position and earned the job.
“I have always had a passion for flowers and an interest in design. My current position allows me to combine all of my professional experiences and education with my artistic passion," said Dowling. "It is an absolute pleasure to come to work each day and to work in such an inspirational setting—the White House, the people’s house—creating floral décor for an amazing array of official events and everyday activities."