Just as I was beginning the semester, Bill’s mother’s husband, Jeff Dwire, died suddenly from heart failure. It was devastating for Virginia. Bill returned to the campaign trail after Jeff’s funeral, and I explored life in a small college town.
I had never before lived in a place so small, friendly and Southern, and I loved it. I went to Arkansas Razorbacks football games and learned to “call the hogs.”
Bill had won the primary for Congress and the Democratic runoff in June, with a little help from my father and my brother Tony, who spent a few weeks in May doing campaign grunt work, putting up posters and answering phones. It still amazes me that my diehard Republican father worked for Bill’s election, a testament to how much he had come to love and respect him. By Labor Day, Bill’s campaign was picking up momentum, and the Republicans began a barrage of personal attacks and dirty tricks.
When President Nixon was in Fayetteville for the 1969 Texas vs. Arkansas football game, a young man climbed into a tree to protest the Vietnam War―and Nixon’s presence on campus. Five years later, Bill’s political opponents claimed that Bill was the guy in the tree. It didn’t matter that Bill was studying in Oxford, England, at the time, four thousand miles away. For years after, I ran into people who believed the charge.
One of Bill’s mailings to voters was not delivered, and the bales of postcards were later found stashed behind a post office. Other incidents of sabotage were reported, but no foul play could be proved. When election night came that November, Bill lost by 6,000votes―52 to 48 percent.
At the end of the school year I decided to take a long trip back to Chicago and the East Coast to visit friends and people who had offered me jobs. I still wasn’t sure what to do with my life. On the way to the air port, Bill and I passed a red brick house near the university with a “For Sale” sign out front. I casually mentioned that it was a sweet looking little house and never gave it a second thought. After a few weeks of traveling and thinking, I decided I wanted to return to my life in Arkansas and to Bill. When Bill picked me up, he asked, “Do you remember that house you liked? Well, I bought it, so now you’d better marry me because I can’t live in it by myself.”
Bill proudly drove up the driveway and ushered me inside. The house had a screened in porch, a living room with a beamed cathedral ceiling, a fireplace, a big bay window, a good-sized bedroom and bath room and a kitchen that needed a lot of work. Bill had already bought an old wrought-iron bed at a local antiques store and had been to Wal-mart for sheets and towels.
This time I said “yes.”
We were married in the living room on October 11, 1975, by the Reverend Vic Nixon, a local Methodist minister. I walked into the room on my father’s arm, and the minister said, “Who will give away this woman?” We all looked at my father expectantly. But he didn’t let go. Finally Rev. Nixon said, “You can step back now, Mr. Rodham.”
After all that has happened, I’m often asked why Bill and I have stayed together. It’s not a question I welcome, but given the public nature of our lives, it’s one I know will be asked over and over again. What can I say to explain a love that has persisted for decades and has grown through our shared experiences of parenting a daughter, burying our parents and tending our extended families, a lifetime’s worth of friends, a common faith and an abiding commitment to our country? All I know is that no one understands me better and no one can make me laugh the way Bill does. Even after all these years, he is still the most interesting, energizing and fully alive person I have ever met. Bill Clinton and I started a conversation in the spring of 1971, and more than thirty years later we’re still talking.