10 Things You Didn’t Know About Tom Vilsack

President-elect Obama selected Vilsack to lead the Department of Agriculture.

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1. Thomas James Vilsack was born Dec. 13, 1950, in Pittsburgh, to an unwed mother who put him up for adoption. Bud and Dolly Vilsack adopted the infant.

2. He has been married to Christie Bell, a teacher, since 1973. They meet in college when Vilsack reportedly asked her if she supported Hubert Humphrey or Richard Nixon for president (her answer: Humphrey). The couple has two adult sons, Jess and Doug.

3. Vilsack earned a B.A. in history from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., in 1972 and a law degree from Albany Law School in 1975. After law school, he and his wife settled in her hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where he began his law career working with his father-in-law.

4. When the mayor of Mount Pleasant was shot and killed by an angry citizen during a City Council meeting, Vilsack decided to run for the office. He was elected in 1987 and served through 1992. He then ran for the Iowa State Senate, where he served from 1992 through 1998.

5. In 1998, Vilsack was elected governor; he was the first Democrat to hold the office in Iowa in more than 30 years. He was re-elected in 2002.

6. Vilsack took the oath of office both times with his hand on a Bible his mother gave him when he was 16. "It's the one he keeps by his bedside," his wife says, adding that Vilsack's mother "has been a motivation to him because she overcame alcoholism."

7. From 2000 through 2006, Vilsack made an annual "walk across Iowa" to meet constituents.

8. Vilsack entered the 2008 presidential race but ended his bid in early 2007 because of fundraising challenges.

9. He currently is a partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP and a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University's Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products.

10. A strong supporter of rural growth and renewable energy, Vilsack has been selected by President-elect Obama as secretary of agriculture. A confirmation hearing is set for January 14.