By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
The story, Gramm goes on to explain, is told to show that he doesn't always make good first impressions but is very persistent: the two did marry within four months of Lee's arrival at A&M.
But when Wendy Gramm told the story to a Washington Post interviewer back in 1986, when she was making waves as a top red-tape buster at the federal Office of Management and Budget, it contained a slight variation: "I didn't say it, but I thought, 'Oh, yuck,'" she recalled.
It is a detail of little consequence, easily changed to make the tale read better. (When we called to ask Gramm campaign functionary Opinsky about the discrepancy, we didn't even make the cut to talk to him. "Howard seems to be away from his desk right now," we were told. "He'll have to call you back." He didn't.)
In other respects, Wendy Gramm's image is being carefully shaped by a campaign clearly intent on keeping the candidate's wife -- a successful, bright professional with her own impressive credentials -- from falling into the trap that has snared Hillary Rodham Clinton. Viewed by many of the president's opponents as being brash and overly aggressive, Mrs. Clinton has suffered lower approval ratings than her husband, a rare feat for a first lady.
The public has learned so far that 50-year-old Wendy Gramm likes to rollerblade, an as-yet unknown White House sporting preference.
She and Phil have two teenage sons -- Marshall and Jeff -- and their rearing has consumed much of Wendy Gramm's time away from the office. She is not a darling of the Washington cocktail scene, instead making those appearances necessary for her, or her husband's, career. Perhaps most important, she does not consider herself like Hillary Rodham Clinton, and wouldn't use the job of first lady to become a shadow member of the Cabinet.
Wendy Gramm says she doesn't mind stepping back to let her husband's presidential ambitions stand on their own.
"I've been helping Phil all along; I will continue to do that," she told the Daughters of Liberty Republican Women's Club in Houston earlier this year. "But I make no bones about the fact he is the candidate. He is the one who wants the job."
Asked the specific difference between herself and Hillary Rodham Clinton, for example, Wendy Gramm told the Houston Chronicle, "She has blond hair, I have brown hair."
She then added simply: "We have different views."
Asked by the New Republic for an example of something she and her husband disagree over, Wendy Gramm sighed and complained about how loudly her husband yells at Aggie football games.
"There are things that we disagree about, but they're not real substantial," she continued. "Like whether or not we should eat at Burger King."
But the facile answers she is lobbing at selected reporters understate Wendy Gramm's own substantial track record of public service. And much of what she has done offers no comfort to Democrats and public advocacy groups already cringing from the Republicans' 1994 congressional landslides.
In truth, Wendy Gramm in many ways is the epitome of the American Dream. Smart, funny, successful in her own right -- those are among the descriptions offered by people who don't agree with Wendy Gramm's politics, or necessarily care for her husband. She shares a Wellesley education with current first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and holds her own track record of formidable job titles, including several key federal regulatory jobs.
Whatever her grandfather's toils in the sugar cane fields, Wendy Gramm herself is now comfortably ensconced in the elite of America, traveling in circles of power and prestige. She has passed through the revolving door of federal office and now sits on the boards of major corporations. She bagged more than $20,000 in fees during one recent reporting year just for giving lectures and writing guest columns for the Wall Street Journal.
If she becomes first lady, business interests and fans of unfettered free markets will have not one, but two, avid backers in the White House.
As she scaled the heights of her profession, Wendy Gramm conspicuously carried the free-market banner with her, and that has benefited both her and her husband politically.
Born in 1945 in Hawaii to Joshua Lee and Angeline AnChin Lee, Wendy Lee got her education during the tumultuous '60s, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics from Wellesley in 1966. She received her economics doctorate from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, five years later.
When she took a teaching post at A&M in 1970, she has said, Wendy Lee planned to spend only five years in Aggieland -- where some guy with a thick Southern accent wanted to help her with her coat -- then go teach at a small liberal arts college somewhere. Instead, she married Gramm, the couple had two sons, and she stayed on the A&M faculty for nine years, starting as an assistant economics professor and rising to associate.
It was Wendy Lee's first marriage and Phil Gramm's second. Gramm had amicably divorced his first wife before meeting Wendy Lee.
When her husband was elected to Congress in 1978, Wendy Gramm followed, and she began landing a string of increasingly important, if arcane, federal posts. Being married to a U.S. congressman and then senator undoubtedly did not hurt her job prospects, but Wendy Gramm flourished mostly by marching in step with Ronald Reagan's crusades to cut red tape and get government off people's backs.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city