Bill Clinton’s first election victory as Attorney General of Arkansas in 1976 was anticlimactic. He had won the primary in May and had no Republican opponent. The big show that year was the presidential contest between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
I was thrilled that Carter won the national election. Bill and I had had to move to Little Rock, which meant leaving the house we had been married in. I had to decide what to do next, and I began to seriously consider joining a private firm.
The Rose Law Firm was reputed to be the oldest firm west of the Mississippi. I had gotten to know one of the partners, Vince Foster, while I was running the legal aid clinic at the law school.
After 1976, Vince and another Rose Firm partner, came to see me with a job offer. I joined the litigation section, and two lawyers with whom I worked most were Vince and Webster Hubbell.
Vince was one of the best lawyers I’ve ever known and one of the best friends I’ve ever had. If you remember Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, you can picture Vince: steady, courtly, sharp but understated, the sort of person you would want around in times of trouble.
Vince was born and raised in Hope, Arkansas. The backyard of his boyhood home bordered the backyard of Bill’s grandparents, with whom Bill lived until he was four.
Webb Hubbell was a big, burly, likeable man, a former University of Arkansas football star and an avid golfer, which endeared him to Bill from the outset. He was great fun to work with and a loyal, supportive friend.
In the first jury trial I handled on my own, I defended a canning company against a plaintiff who found the rear end of a rat in the can of pork and beans he opened for dinner one night. He didn’t actually eat it but claimed that the mere sight was so disgusting that he couldn’t stops pitting, which in turn interfered with his ability to kiss his fiancée. He sat through the trial spitting into a handkerchief and looking miserable. There was no doubt that something had gone wrong in the processing plant, but the company refused to pay the plaintiff since it argued that he hadn’t really been damaged; and besides, the rodent parts which had been sterilized might be considered edible in certain parts of the world. Although I was nervous in front of the jury, I warmed to the task of convincing them that my client was in the right and was relieved when they awarded the plaintiff only nominal damages. For years after, Bill used to kid me about the “rat’s ass” case and mimic the plaintiff’s claim he could no longer kiss his fiancée because he was so busy spitting.
While being a politician’s wife as well as a trial lawyer occasionally got people talking when I stepped out in public, I was not usually recognized. Once another attorney and I chartered a small plane to fly to Harrison, Arkansas, for a court appearance, only to land at the airstrip and find there were no taxis. I walked over to a group of men standing around the hangar. “Is anybody driving into Harrison?” I asked. “We need to go to the courthouse.”
Without turning around, one man offered, “I am. I’ll take you.”
The man drove an old junker stuffed with tools, so we all crammed into the front seat and headed for Harrison. We barreled along with the radio blaring―until the news came on and the announcer said, “Today, Attorney General Bill Clinton said that he would be investigating judge So-and-so for misbehavior on the bench. . .” All of a sudden our driver shouted, “Bill Clinton! You know that son of a bitch Bill Clinton?”
I braced myself and said, “Yeah, I do know him. In fact, I’m married to him.”
That got the man’s attention, and he turned to look at me for the first time. “You’re married to Bill Clinton? Well, he’s my favorite son of a bitch, and I’m his pilot!”
This was when I noticed that our Samaritan had a black disk over one eye. He was called One-Eyed Jay, and sure enough, had been flying Bill in little airplanes all over. Now I just hoped old One-Eyed Jay’s driving was as good as his flying, and I was grateful when he delivered us to the courthouse safe and sound, if a bit rumpled.