The death early Tuesday of Dorothy Rodham, 92, mother of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ended a long period during which Hillary Clinton had devotedly looked after her mother. It also reminds that even the powerful and famous have personal lives which are often overlooked.
Mrs. Rodham had lived with her daughter in Washington, D.C. while her son-in-law, former President Bill Clinton, mainly lived in his Westchester County, N.Y. home. She shunned personal limelight although she did campaign occasionally with her daughter during her 2008 candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Hillary Clinton's father, the late Hugh Rodham, was a Chicago businessman who also kept out of the limelight. I noted his obituary, by chance, in my college fraternity's alumni magazine several years ago. Rodham had been a member at Penn State University. The several-paragraph obituary mentioned only in its last sentence that he was the father of the then-First Lady.
Bill and Hillary Clinton, as is well known, had a complicated marriage. They had been classmates at Yale Law School. Both worked in the 1972 McGovern presidential campaign. Afterward, Bill returned to Arkansas to begin his political career. Hillary remained in Washington, D.C. to work for a congressional committee investigating President Richard Nixon's misdeeds in office.
During the latter period, Hillary was renting a room from a McGovern-campaign friend. One day, the friend related, she returned home to find Hillary packing in her room. "What are you doing?" she asked Hillary. "I am going to Arkansas to marry Bill Clinton," Hillary responded. "Does Bill know this?" the friend asked. "No, but he will!" Hillary responded.
Her friend tried to dissuade Hillary and drove her all the way to Arkansas, hoping to change her mind. She related her concern that Bill Clinton was a womanizer and that Hillary should not tie her fate to his. But Hillary would not be deterred.
The eventual marriage proceeded as her friend had predicted. Bill Clinton became Arkansas' governor. Hillary, as first lady, took an active role and often was described by her husband as co-governor. He said that, in voting for him, Arkansans "were getting a two-for-one deal." Hillary Clinton devoted herself to public service and to the Clintons' daughter Chelsea.
The rest is public history. But there was a private history too. There had to be frustration and heartbreak for Hillary as her husband refused to cease philandering behavior, even in the White House. One can imagine her parents, Hugh and Dorothy Rodham, counseling her and trying to be supportive. There was a telling TV image during Hillary's 2008 presidential campaign. During an Iowa campaign event, Dorothy Rodham, Hillary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton could be seen leaning together and chatting animatedly at a luncheon table; Bill Clinton sat alone, several feet distant, and out of the conversation.
I supported Obama in the 2008 nominating race, but I respected Hillary Clinton's grace in defeat and her willingness to sacrifice her political independence, as U.S. Senator from New York, to serve in the Obama Cabinet. I also respect her non-stop devotion to her mother and daughter, devotion which clearly was reciprocated.