Comparing Virginia’s First Ladies

 By Peter Galuszka

Military Moms From  Ft. Belvoir Attend Group Baby Shower
Maureen McDonnell

How does Maureen McDonnell define being Virginia’s first spouse? What does she say about other women who are or have been in her role? How does she compare with other First Ladies?

Testimony in the federal corruption trial of Ms. McDonnell and her husband former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has been highly defamatory to her. She’s been characterized as a greedy, deceptive “nutbag” who misled her husband, demanded fine things like designer clothing, and maintained a strange, emotionally close relationship to Jonnie R. Williams, a businessman who gave the McDonnells more than $170,000 in various loans and gifts to gain their help in promoting his products.

In another setting, anything of this, assuming it is true, would be a personal matter. But it isn’t. The fact is that Ms. McDonnell was very much a part of the political process. McDonnell ran for office repeatedly on the theme that he and his wife were religious, family-oriented individuals dedicated to public service. She could have chosen to minimize her role but she did not.

In fact, according to evidence introduced at the trial, she actually sent instructions to state employees pretending that she had the authority of the “Gov” to do the bidding of Williams. And when she traveled with Williams out of state to promote his product Anatabloc, she represented herself as “The First Lady of Virginia” and often had security officers with her at taxpayers expense. In other words, she is fair game for comparisons. Mind you, just a few years ago, this woman could have been a possibility for First Lady of the United States some time down the road.

She grew up mostly in Northern Virginia in a large family parented by civil service workers of the FBI. The former Washington Redskins cheerleader attended community college and worked mostly as a secretarial worker or aide for the FBI and other federal agencies. She and her husband have five children, and besides raising them, she has had a small, part-time business selling beauty and creams and health aids. As First Lady, she ran an initiative to help women and promote wine, veterans benefits and other matters.

The trial, now entering its fourth week, begs questions about what differentiates her background and behavior  with that of other recent First Ladies. I think it is a fair question. None of the others has ever had similar questions about them. I think a review of their backgrounds and accomplishments is the best way to make the point. Here goes:

Dorothy McauliffeDorothy McAuliffe, wife of current Gov. Terry McAuliffe. A graduate of The Catholic University of America and the Georgetown University Law Center, she has practiced securities law and now advocates for children and family issues.

Anne Holton, wife of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine. As a child, Anne-Holtonshe and her father, former Gov. Linwood Holton, made national headlines during the civil rights area when they were photographed walking hand-in-hand to a newly integrated Richmond public school. The brave image helped calm tensions over court-ordered integration. She graduated magna cum laude from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton and then got a law degree cum laude from Harvard. She was a prominent judge specializing in youth and domestic relations issues and is now Virginia’s Secretary of Education.lisa_collis2

Lisa Collis, wife of former Gov. and U.S. Senator Mark Warner. A graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Texas, she has specialized in health and youth  issues as head of the Collis Warner Foundation.

Roxanne Gatling Gilmore, wife of former Gov. Jim Gilmore. A roxannegildescendant of the man who invented the rapid-fire Gatling gun, Ms. Gilmore is a University of Virginia graduate and has a bachelor’s and master’s degree. A specialist in classical studies she has taught Latin at the high school level and has been a professor in Greek and Roman studies at Randolph Macon College. She oversaw a multimillion makeover of the Executive Mansion and later wrote a book about it.

Susan-AllenSusan Brown Allen, wife of former Gov. and former U.S. Senator George Allen. She is a marketing specialist from Charlottesville who graduated from the University of South Carolina.

With one possible exception, I’d say that Virginia should be proud of its FLOVAs, the security term for First Lady.

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16 responses to “Comparing Virginia’s First Ladies”

  1. Excellent Post Peter!

    thank you!

    hardly anyone that occupies the GOv office – Gov and wife – does not have flaws and skeletons in their respective closets, I suspect.

    second – some folks get “commandeered” into a role – they just are not up to doing .. and if they had a choice would not have made that choice!

    I still think it takes a pretty small person to go in front of God and Country to detail your spouses of 40 years and 5 kids, flaws – even if it is 100% true and it did cause you issues.

    I guess after you’ve achieved the level of a pro-football cheer-leader – everything after that is like being a galley slave…or worse.. eh?

    for all we know – the prior first family couples also had their problems but all of them were of sufficient personal and moral character to be graciously quiet about it.

    some folks in life deal with adversity with grace and charm – others turn into uncontrollable screaming meemies .

  2. bwbower Avatar

    This is a little cruel, don’t you think?

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I did give considerable thought to your point and have updated my post to reflect my views. Ms. McDonnell is fair game for comparison because (1) she allowed herself to be packaged by her husband’s campaign staff as a God-fearing, family-loving public servant ; (2) there is undeniable written evidence that she used her influence to pressure state officials to do the bidding of Jonnie WIlliams; (3) she openly represented herself as the “First Lady of Virginia” when she traveled out of state with WIlliams to promote his products; and (4) she took security officials with her at taxpayer expense.

    There have been suggestions at the trial that Mc. McDonnell may be suffering from some kind of emotional or psychiatric disorder and that deserves sympathy and discretion. But her behavior was so obviously public and out-of-line and expensive to the tax coffers and reputation of the Commonwealth of Virginia that it must be confronted and addressed openly.

  4. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    This is pointless and adds nothing of value to the ongoing analysis of this trial, or am I allowed to say that as someone who hasn’t gone down to the courtroom? Also, it’s impossible to prove these women didn’t do anything as awful as Maureen McDonnell since their husbands have as yet not seen the inside of a courtroom. As much as I tire of DJ’s “But all governor’s do it, the Virginia Way, Imperial Clown Show!” it at least has the power of equal information. Lastly, this is just sexist as last I checked Maureen is not the one on trial, so you can miss me with this “How does this woman compare with other women at the job of being a wife?”

    1. I somewhat agree. I think what Pete tried to do was compare the first ladies which as you say we don’t know but there is a reason we don’t know that directly relates to why we DO know for the McDonnells.

      My suspects are that prior Govs exercised good enough judgement to not have the Feds snooping around their financial affairs.

      second, even if their wives were as unruly as Maureen – the first couple would keep it quiet – because they know the both go down if they do not.

      Finally, I cannot imagine for the life of me – ANY husband, much less a sitting Governor trashing his wife on national media – not matter what!

      The McDonnells are craven and crass folk… instead of grace and charm – they’ve proven themselves to be crude and rude ruffians willing to bare it all in front of God and Country.

      These folks did not deserve to be in charge of Virginia.. they lacked basic decency and common sense judgement.

      What Peter did – was not try to compare the wives point by point – but to show just how little you know about the prior wives – that was a purposeful strategy.. on purpose.. to not stain the legitimacy of the office with personal affairs.

      Perhaps I’m all wet and we need more insight into the personal affairs of elected officials. … but I really do find it TMI… I don’t need to know their personal lives .. I don’t WANT to know their personal lives and I certainly don’t want the Gov blaming his wife for his own lack of character and morals.

    2. Maureen is not on trial?

      1. Maureen IS on trial AND it IS the PURPOSEFUL strategy of the “defense” but why is Maureen supporting them?

        Does anyone else find it “incestuous” for Maureen to part of a defense “team” that instead of defending both her and Bob – is using her as a built-in excuse for Bob?

        If Maureen were tried separately – wouldn’t the charges be dismissed almost immediately since charging her – as a non-govt official with bribery and corruption would be legally ludicrous?

        So why is Maureen sitting with the “defense” team and at the same time being savaged by the same defense team?

        I just think the whole deal is an odious CF – on many levels.

        1. I’ve got to find some time to write more on this. Maureen, I believe, is charged with conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. While she couldn’t commit honest services fraud herself she could conspire with the governor to do so – which is a crime in itself.

          So, how does the rather clever Maureen beat the conspiracy charge when it seems obvious that she was raking in a treasure trove of gifts from Jonnie Williams? She claims she didn’t conspire with the governor because she wasn’t even speaking to him. She was desperately unhappy as first lady and frequently screamed at the governor and others in state government. She was infatuated with Jonnie Williams and kept much of what happened a secret from the governor because she was embarrassed by the level of flirtation that was transpiring.

          Everybody seems to think Maureen is some poor, dumb, manipulated woman. Not me. I think she knows exactly what she’s doing. The text messages were going to come out anyway so pretending there wasn’t something of a relationship was not going to work. Her apparently blistering temper had been felt by more than Bob so there were no doubt already rumors of her fury.

          She had little to lose and lots to gain with this strategy. The best way to kill a conspiracy charge is to convince the jury that the supposed conspirators weren’t communicating. As of now, I’d say she’s doing a pretty damn good job of that.

          1. I never thought it was “poor’ Maureen… I think at least on one level, her and Bob are a perfect match!

            but normally when the guy says “she was a shrew” – the gal says something like ” yeah, he made me that way!”

            So here you have Bob saying “she was a shrew who was making my life miserable” and what does Maureen say? crickets chirping? Does Maureen have a ‘defense team”?

            Where is the ” Bob had a mistress called “public service” and abandoned me when I needed him” – Defense?

            If you REALLY wanted me to actually BELIEVE the two were at each others throats – I have to hear Maureen say it too.

            Otherwise, this sounds a little like two confederates with complementary stories ….in a pigeon drop scam.

            So no .. Maureen is not God’s gift to mankind – by a long shot but if anyone thinks Bob is the Pope, I have a bridge to sell you.

      2. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

        Hot damn, I stepped in it there. This is literally the only place I’m reading that is covering the trial and so much of the coverage has been on poor Bob and what he did/didn’t do/know I plum forgot Mo was in the hot seat, too.

        1. Maureen is playing the role of the straight guy in this stand up drama.

          If Maureen was really a shrew – would you REALLY expect her to say nothing in her own defense at the trial?

          this is bogus to the bone.. specially configured for rubes..

          what kind of idiot thinks he can trash his wife in front of God and Country as a core strategy to save his own hide? Bob apparently thinks he’s going to get into a witness protection program!

          On what planet is Bob and his “defense” team. He has apparently figured how how to buy the worst defense you can buy for the money.

  5. Andrew Moore Avatar
    Andrew Moore


    You may want to double-check the image for Lisa Collis. The head shot in the piece doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to the former Governor’s wife.

    Andrew Moore

    1. billsblots Avatar

      I was going to say he left out of the narrative, “models head shots for Breck shampoo”

    2. JWSevert Avatar

      I’ll echo Mr. Moore. I’ve known Lisa for nearly 20 years, and that photo doesn’t resemble her at all. It also depicts a demeanor that would be uncharacteristic, to say the least.

  6. billsblots Avatar

    “A specialist in classical studies she has taught Latin at the high school level and has been a professor in Greek and Roman studies at Randolph Macon College. ”
    A gladiator walks into a bar and says, “I’ll have a martinus, please.” The bartender says, “You mean a martini?” He says, “No. If I’d wanted a double I’d have asked for it.”

  7. billsblots Avatar

    A group of gladiators walks into a bar. One of them holds up two fingers and says, “Five beers, please.”

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