Soon after we returned from Europe, Bill offered to take me on another journey―this time to the place he called home.
Bill picked me up at the airport in Little Rock on a bright summer morning in late June. We made our way through the Arkansas River Valley with its low-slung magnolia trees, and into the Ouachita Mountains, stopping at overlooks and dropping by country stores so Bill could introduce me to the people and places he loved. As dusk fell, we arrived, at last, in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Hot Springs was Virginia Cassidy Blythe Clinton Dwire Kelley’s natural element. Bill’s mother was raised in nearby Hope, eighty miles to the southwest. During World War II she attended nursing school in Louisiana, and that’s where she met her first husband, William Jefferson Blythe.
After the war, they moved to Chicago and lived on the North Side, not far from where my parents were living. When Virginia became pregnant with Bill, she went home to Hope to wait for the baby. Her husband was driving down to see her when he had a fatal accident in Missouri in May of 1946. Virginia was a twenty-three-year-old widow when Bill was born on August 19, 1946. She decided to go to New Orleans to train to become a nurse anesthetist because she knew she could make more money that way to support herself and her new son. She left Bill in the care of her mother and father, and when she got her degree, she returned to Hope to practice.
In 1950, she married Roger Clinton, a hard-drinking car dealer, and moved with him to Hot Springs in 1953. At the age of fifteen, Bill was finally big enough to make his stepfather stop beating his mother, at least when he was around. He also tried to look out for his little brother, Roger, ten years younger. Virginia was widowed again in 1967 when Roger Clinton died after a long battle with cancer.
I was no Miss Arkansas and certainly not the kind of girl Virginia expected her son to fall in love with. No matter what else was going on in her life, Virginia got up early, glued on her false eyelashes and put on bright red lipstick, and sashayed out the door. My style baffled her, and she didn’t like my strange Yankee ideas either.
Eventually Virginia and I figured out that what we shared was more significant than what we didn’t: We both loved the same man.
Bill was coming home to Arkansas and taking a teaching job in Fayetteville, at the University of Arkansas School of Law. I was moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to work for Marian Wright Edelman at the newly created Children’s Defense Fund (CDF).
Despite the satisfaction of my work, I was lonely and missed Bill more than I could stand. We agreed that I would come down to Arkansas after Christmas 1973 so we could try to figure out where we were heading. By the time I arrived for New Year’s, Bill had decided to run for Congress. He believed that the Republican Party would be hurt by the Watergate scandal and that even well-entrenched incumbents could be vulnerable.
I was aware of the announcement from Washington that John Doar had been selected by the House Judiciary Committee to head up the impeachment inquiry to investigate President Nixon. We had met Doar at Yale.
One day early in January, while I was having coffee with Bill in his kitchen, the phone rang. It was Doar asking him to join the impeachment staff he was organizing. Bill told Doar he had decided to run for Congress, Doar then said he would call me next. He offered me a staff position, explaining that the job would pay very little, the hours would be long and most of the work would be painstaking and monotonous. With Marian Wright Edelman’s blessing, I packed my bags and moved from Cambridge into a spare room in Washington apartment of Sara Ehrman. Who might had come to know well campaign for a government in Texas. I was on my way to one of the most intense and significant experiences of my life.