Guest Column by Janice Rothschild Blumberg
Many people criticize Hillary Clinton for lacking warmth and for failing to project sincerity. Few of them have more on which to base their opinion than what they read and see of her in the news. From the several occasions that I’ve had to observe her personally and to speak with others who have had extensive personal contact with her, I have quite a different opinion.
I first met Hillary Clinton at a dinner in Little Rock in 1985 when my husband, David Blumberg, presented an award on behalf of B’nai B’rith to her husband, the governor of Arkansas.
She and I were seated together in the center of the dais next to them. Having little opportunity for conversation with anyone else, throughout dinner we kept company with each other, much to my delight. I came away awe-struck by this attractive young woman who spoke enthusiastically about her 5-year-old daughter and her work in several volunteer initiatives for helping children and improving public education.
She didn’t tell me, but I soon learned that she was also working full time as an attorney, the first female partner in the city’s most prestigious law firm, as well as serving on several corporate boards. Being first lady of a state entailed a job description of its own, enough to keep most women on a schedule too full for other responsibilities.
We were just beginning to understand that it was possible for a young mom to tackle even one job outside her home. Hillary was getting rave reviews with many more.
The next time I had personal contact with her was in Washington at the funeral of a friend.
I was living in D.C. when the Clintons came to the White House, and I had a number of friends who volunteered for work in the first lady’s office. They had done this during previous administrations and were thus acquainted with other first ladies. All were pleasant, my friends agreed, but no one came close to Hillary in their praise.
Others made them proud for having had the contact. She evoked love and loyalty. She treated them as individuals and in many ways demonstrated her appreciation for the time and effort they were giving as much-needed aides to her staff.
First lady Hillary demonstrated her personal interest in her volunteers in numerous ways, but none so effectively as she did at Washington’s Temple Sinai when she gave a eulogy at the funeral of my friend Muriel Alpert.
No speechwriter could possibly have captured Muriel’s character as Hillary did. Muriel had a sense of humor like no other and chutzpah to match, all of which Hillary brought out in her remarks, giving anecdotes that caught the essence of the friend we knew and mourned.
She had us laughing through our tears. That’s a talent, but it requires a deep understanding of a person’s character to pull it off.
Hillary also demonstrated her sensitivity by changing the customary practice of herding everyone together for a group photograph with the president and first lady at the annual Christmas party for White House volunteers. She insisted on individual pictures with herself and the president.
My friends proudly display in their living rooms the signed photographs of themselves and their husbands with both Clintons for each year that they worked at the White House. More important, they treasure the memories.
I have a picture not of myself, but of my husband with the Clintons taken on that August night in 1985 when we first met them in Little Rock. When dinner was over, we walked with them from the hotel ballroom out to the parking lot.
When we parted to find our cars, the first thing David said to me was, “You watch that young man. He’s going to be our president someday.”
Neither of us had the foresight to predict, “And her, too.”