January 19, 2009
They used to party with him in college.
He was the guy who'd drink a few beers, maybe take a toke, stay up until 4 a.m. then excuse himself to crank out an "A" paper due that morning.
Other than the toke, good training to have for someday running a country.
"He will always be Barry to us," Barbara Thummalapally says of her college friend, Barack Obama. "We can't believe that we'll be saying ‘Mr. President.'"
She and her husband, Vinai, met the man who would be president at Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1979. Vinai roomed with Obama one summer and taught him how to cook Indian food.
Obama later transferred to Columbia University, but the Colorado Springs couple stayed good friends with him through the years. "We went to his wedding, and so on and so forth," Barbara says.
The Thummalapallys have been there throughout Obama's rise to fame - from his Senate swearing-in to the Springfield announcement of his bid for president. And today, the couple and their kids, Vishal and Sharanya, will be VIP guests at Obama's inauguration ceremony and ball.
Barbara opted to delay a new teaching career this year to work for Obama and open their Rockrimmon home to other campaigners. Vinai, president of a CD and DVD manufacturing company, was on the national finance committee.
The couple often get asked what Obama was like in college.
Easy. He was Barry, the mellow guy in the leather jacket, dragging on a cigarette.
"The leather jacket he wore for years. The leather jacket, that's exactly him," Barbara says. "He would be sitting there smoking quite a bit in those days."
Their close-knit circle of international students hardly rated as party animals.
"There were about six of us. We'd go to Venice Beach to see all the crazy people. We'd have all these great political discussions about whatever the latest thing was."
Having a good time didn't interfere with Obama's academics.
"It was so typical that he could just go and type out this amazing paper and do well after having partied all night, having drinks, beer or whatever we do at college," she says.
Obama sometimes drove her to class. "He'd sit there low in his seat, he played cool music."
She has pictures of her on the beach with Obama when they met up in Hawaii on a summer break from college.
There's a photo in New York City from a reunion about 20 years ago with a few other classmates. Obama's wearing a leather jacket.
In the campaign last summer, the couple helped put on a fundraiser at The Broadmoor, enjoying some private time with Obama when they went to his room for a nightcap.
"We relaxed and chatted. He offered us some of his chocolates and cheese and the fruits he eats at night," Barbara says. "I sat on the floor and rubbed his back. I knew he was very exhausted and decompressing."
She isn't surprised he's taking the nation's top job.
"He has always been such a cool character and so comfortable in his skin," she says. "He is so grounded about what is important in life and what he is made of."
Even in a tailored suit, to them he's the same Barry in the leather jacket.
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