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Name: Thummalapally, Vinai
Current Position: Previous Ambassador


By appointing his college roommate, Vinai K. Thummalapally, to the cushy post of ambassador to Belize, President Barack Obama followed in the tradition of Goerge W. Bush who also chose a college roommate as ambassador to Belize. It didn’t hurt that Thummalapally made significant financial contributions to the 2008 campaign. Confirmed by the Senate on July 30, 2009, Thummalapally is the first Indian-American ambassador in U.S. history.


Originally from the Jubilee Hills neighborhood of Hyderabad, India, Thummalapally is the son of T. Dharma Reddy, a retired scientist who worked for the Andhra Pradesh Forensic Sciences Laboratory, and T. Padmaja. Thummalapally came to the United States in 1974 at the age of 19, and attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he first met Obama in 1980. They spent the summer as roommates, debating foreign policy and watching Los Angeles Lakers basketball games. Thummalapally made Indian food for “Barry”—the name Obama went by at that time—teaching him how to make daal.
The two did their share of partying together, although Thummalapally’s reminiscences seem to vary. In one recollection he recalled, “It was so typical that [Obama] 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.” But in another account Thummalapally told The New York Times that Obama was a model of moderation—jogging in the morning, playing pickup basketball at the gym, hitting the books and socializing. “If someone passed him a joint, he would take a drag. We’d smoke or have one extra beer, but he would not even do as much as other people on campus,” said Thummalapally. “He was not even close to being a party animal.”
Obama spent two years at Occidental before transferring to Columbia University in New York to complete his undergraduate degree. Thummalapally apparently transferred as well, given that his biography says he received his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from California State University, although it does not say which of the 20 Cal State campuses he attended. Thummalapally’s CV also states that he later completed post-graduate courses in business administration at an unnamed university.
Thummalapally began his career as a mechanical engineer, before becoming general manager for WEA Manufacturing, which produced CDs. He went on to serve as a managing partner of Clines Office Products, as manufacturing manager of Disc Manufacturing, Inc., and as the plant manager for Mitsui Advanced Media Inc., eventually becoming president of MAM-A Inc., a Colorado-based manufacturer and distributor of recordable CDs and DVDs.
Thummalapally and his wife, Barbara, attended Obama’s wedding in 1992. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Thummalapally was named to Obama’s National Finance Committee to help “bundle” contributions that reportedly totaled between $100,000 and $200,000, according to Barbara worked as a volunteer for the Obama campaign.
The Thummalapallys, along with son, Vishal, and daughter, Sharanya, were VIP guests at Obama’s inauguration ceremony and ball.
A Place in the Obama World (by Ralph Routon, Colorado Springs Independent)
Obama Names Desi Buddy Vinai as US Envoy (by Chidanand Rajghatta, Times of India)
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