Liddy goes for a stroll down memory lane

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 4, 2012

SALISBURY — The first thing Elizabeth Hanford Dole picked up and held Saturday was one of her childhood books, “My Own Book of Prayers.”
She guessed that it had been given to her by “Miss Virgie” Jenkins, and the inscription inside confirmed it. The book immediately led Dole and her lifelong friend Betty Dan Spencer to reminisce about Miss Virgie — a mentor, teacher and friend to both of their families.
Miss Virgie used to take the young Hanford girl to Sunday school. If “Liddy,” Dole’s childhood nickname, wasn’t on South Fulton Street when Miss Virgie came by, Miss Virgie didn’t stop and wait — she left the girl behind.
It was Miss Virgie’s way of teaching her to be on time, Dole laughed.
One summer, Miss Virgie also taught the girls typing and shorthand. Dole said her typing skills, as she discovered in one of her early jobs, left a lot to be desired.
While many residents were opening their lawn chairs and spreading out tailgate buffets for Saturday night’s pops concert a block away, Dole was enjoying a sneak preview of Rowan Museum’s new exhibit, “Elizabeth Hanford Dole: Hometown Girl. Public Servant. World Citizen.”
She was blown away, spending nearly two hours to take it all in. Dole was humbled at merely the idea to have an exhibit about her.
“I’ll cherish it the rest of my life,” she said.
Going downmemory lane
There were a lot of tears, smiles and recollections Saturday as Dole went down memory lane, room by room and in the museum’s center hall.
The exhibit has been masterfully put together by Rowan Museum board member Terry Holt, with considerable assistance from Spencer, Executive Director Kaye Brown Hirst, longtime Dole associate in Salisbury Amy Bauguess and many volunteers with the museum.
Dole’s assistant, Gia Colombraro, helped a lot on the Washington, D.C., end, and she also was getting her first look at the exhibit Saturday.
“Where have you found all these things?” Dole asked early on her tour. “… The whole thing already is so overwhelming, and I’m only in the first room.”
Much can be said and written — and it has — about Dole’s incredible public service and political careers.
The museum touches it all — her time on the Federal Trade Commission and as U.S. secretary of transportation and U.S. secretary of labor, her years as executive director of the American Red Cross, the campaigning she did for husband Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, her own brief run for the U.S. presidency and her term as the first woman U.S. senator from North Carolina.
Dole can still give you the blow-by-blow details of negotiations to expand Washington’s National (now Reagan) Airport, sell Conrail, settle the Pittston coal strike or get food to Somalia.
But Dole lingered a lot longer Saturday evening with the ghosts and artifacts of her younger days.
The journey back became emotional.
“This really pulls at my heartstrings,” Dole said.
There was a picture of her at an archery lesson with other girls. “Me with my glasses,” she said.
It made her think of something her father used to tell her — a father who knew little girls could be self-conscious about wearing glasses.
“Aren’t we so lucky,” he would say, “that we are the only ones in our family who get to wear glasses?”
There also was the program from a piano recital she and Spencer played in at Boyden High School on June 8, 1948, when they were pupils of Lillian Watkins.
Both Dole and Spencer recalled how their fathers weren’t crazy about piano recitals and often would go outside to smoke cigars until their daughters were scheduled to play.
The girls sometimes teamed up on the piano — two girls playing one song, such as Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
“There’s Daddy with Pepe,” Dole said in front of another photograph. Growing up on South Fulton Street, Elizabeth Hanford had two Chihuahuas, Penny and Pepe.
“It must be Father’s Day, because Pepe has a cigar for Daddy,” Dole added.
The photograph also led Dole to remember how Pepe and her father, florist John Hanford, would always go to the kitchen late at night to eat cheese.
The Boyden High yearbook shows Elizabeth Hanford listed as “Most Likely to Succeed,” along with classmate Tyson Underwood.
Democratic start
Dole made her name as a Republican. But early on, she was a registered Democrat, who interned in the office of U.S. Sen. B. Everett Jordan.
“I spent a summer working with him,” she said, seeing herself in a picture with Jordan. “He was wonderful. He was a great boss.”
One of the things you see entering the first exhibit room is a striking Margaret Bost portrait of Elizabeth Hanford, painted about the time she was a Duke University freshman.
“It looks a little different here than in the living room,” Dole said.
Bauguess went into the attic at the Hanford homeplace on South Fulton Street to retrieve beautiful dolls from Dole’s childhood collection. Seeing them again was almost like seeing them for the first time, Dole said.
When Liddy met Bob
Not far from the dolls is a black-and-white photograph of Robert Dole and then Elizabeth Hanford in Washington. It was taken after Hanford and Dole had been at a lunch together. They weren’t even dating, but Dole had signed the photograph, hinting at things to come.
“Good lunching with you,” Bob Dole had written to her. “See you soon … I hope.”
The couple married Dec. 6, 1975, and in about six months, he was the Republican vice presidential nominee, the running mate of President Gerald Ford.
Dole remembered that television’s Sam Donaldson was the first reporter who interviewed her after she suddenly was thrust into the nation’s consciousness.
Something else in this particular display case was an autographed picture of Dole with the late pop star Michael Jackson. Jackson also signed the cover of his then just-released “Thriller” album for her.
Ruptured disk
In the early 1970s, when Elizabeth Hanford was single and working for the Nixon administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs, she leaned over one morning to put on a shoe when a disk ruptured in her back.
She crawled in pain to the telephone and called the Georgetown University Hospital for help. She later had to crawl to the door, so the ambulance attendants could come into her apartment.
A surgeon at the hospital wanted to operate on her back right away, but the consumer in Dole thought better of rushing into surgery and sought out other opinions.
She ended up rejecting an operation and spent 30 days in the hospital “with weights on my ankles,” she said. From her hospital bed, she was sworn in as a new member of the Federal Trade Commission. (See the Yesterday picture on Page 2A.)
The exhibit holds that picture and so many other things, large and small:
• A New Testament book inscribed to Dole from the Rev. Billy Graham.
• Elegant gowns Dole wore with Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth, President Ford and, of course, Bob Dole.
• A jump suit she donned as U.S. senator when she flew in an F-18 fighter plane.
• A crystal jelly bean jar from President Reagan and a photograph of her passing around the jar at a Reagan cabinet meeting.
• Her leather chairs — from the U.S. Senate floor and from her days as a Cabinet secretary.
Dole kept marveling at what her Salisbury friends had been able to put together.
Near the end of her sneak peek, Dole looked out the back window of the museum to the attractive garden where Hirst plants the flowers. And beyond that sits historic St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, with a modest, yet perfect cross on top.
To Dole, the window framed one more picture in the exhibit.
“It’s beautiful in every direction,” she said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@