… and His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man by Connie Schultz

... and His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man

by Connie Schultz

Published by Random House

280 pages, 2007



 

 

Standing By Her Man

Reviewed by Mary Ward Menke 

 

I wasn’t quite 11 years old when John F. Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States. I remember reading an interview with his wife, Jackie, in which she said, “I feel as though I had just turned into a piece of public property. It’s really frightening to lose your anonymity at 31.”

If losing your anonymity is frightening, becoming anonymous is apparently equally so, as described by Connie Schultz in ... and His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man.

Schultz, a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer/Creators Syndicate, and winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, suddenly found herself without an identity when her husband, Congressman Sherrod Brown, decided to run for the U.S. Senate -- but only with her complete approval, which she gave with some hesitation.

The first time I heard it, I laughed.

Oh, come on, I thought. He didn’t just say that.

We were at a restaurant in southern Ohio, where a hundred or so Democrats and a handful of young campaign workers had gathered to hear my husband, Sherrod Brown, announce for the seventh time in two days why he was running for the United States Senate.

The party chairman of the county stood up at the lectern and in a loud, booming voice, introduced “Congressman Sherrod Brown -- and his lovely wife.”

By Week 40 of the campaign, I had been introduced that way nearly a hundred times. I stopped counting once we hit the 50 marker. I knew I was not the point at these gatherings, and I was so proud of the man who was.

Also, I realized I was getting cranky about something I could not change. If I couldn’t rely on a sense of humor, I was in for one long year on the campaign trail.

Connie Schultz and Sherrod Brown, middleaged and divorced with two children each, married in 2004. A year later, the Democratic Congressman from Ohio decided to give up his Congressional seat to run against Mike DeWine, a two-term Republican Senator, in a state where no Democrat had won office for 12 years. In ... and his Lovely Wife, Schultz writes candidly about the challenges facing her as an outspoken journalist, feminist and the wife of a political candidate: her newspaper’s decision not to endorse Brown; friendly coworkers who suddenly became adversaries and the growing consensus that a leave-of-absence from her job was in order; politicians’ wives who “saw themselves ... through the lens of their husbands’ lives” instead of as the talented individuals she knew them to be (“Honey, my husband is my career,” a senator’s wife told her); and the unexpected death of her adored father who had become an important part of the campaign. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Schultz did not relinquish her identity easily. The day after she left The Plain Dealer, she wrote in her journal:  “WHAT’S TO BECOME OF ME?”

Writing wasn’t just what I did, it was who I was. I didn’t know what I thought about something until I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and I couldn’t imagine how I would make sense of the world unfolding in front of me if I wasn’t writing it down and thinking it through at my computer.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, however, Schultz threw herself into the campaign, stepping in and taking control when she deemed it necessary. She traveled throughout the state and made speeches, of course, but she also insisted her husband be allowed down-time to ward off exhaustion and she made it her mission to upgrade his wardrobe when the media referred to his “cheap suits.” She didn’t have as much control over his hair; much to her chagrin, Brown took care of his unruly curls by having them cut off by the House barber in Washington:

One look at him, and I screamed.

Every last curl was gone.

Oh, reporters and bloggers jumped on this one. The haircut was part of Sherrod’s new “Senator image.”

They were right that there was a strategy ... but they got his motive all wrong.

“I didn’t want to have to go to the barber again for a while,” he said, holding me close and patting my back as if he were putting out a campfire. “Besides, baby, it’ll grow back.”

Fortunately, Brown won the election and Schultz was able to return to writing her column for the Plain Dealer. I say “fortunately” because, even though ... and His Lovely Wife is my first opportunity to read Connie Schultz’ work, I’m convinced her voice is one that needs to be heard. Her many awards are testament to that fact: In 2005, the same year she won the Pulitzer for commentary, she also won the Scripps-Howard and National Headliners awards for commentary. In 2004, she earned the James Batten Medal for a three-year body of work of stories and columns illuminating the struggles of underdogs and ordinary folks. In 2003, she received Best of Show in the National Headliner Awards competition for her narrative series “The Burden of Innocence,” which also won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for social justice reporting (domestic) and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing.

In ... and His Lovely Wife, Connie Schultz proves beyond all doubt that she’s more than just a pretty face. | November 2007

 

Mary Ward Menke is a contributing editor to January Magazine and the owner of WordAbilities, LLC, providing writing and editing services to businesses and individuals. Her work has been published in The Toastmaster, Dog Fancy and Science of Mind magazines, in the Suburban Journals (a weekly St. Louis community newspaper) and on STLtoday.com.