Jenny Sanford has 'no regrets,' 'no fear' of future

gnsmith@thestate.comFebruary 7, 2010 

South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford poses for photos in her office at her Sullivan's Island home where she wrote her memoir "Staying True".

C. ALUKA BERRY/CABERRY@THESTATE.COM

  • On tour

    Jenny Sanford is on a media tour promoting her memoir.

    Watch Jenny | Jenny Sanford will appear Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America" and "The View" and on CNN's "Larry King Live."

    Meet Jenny | The first lady will sign copies of her book on Friday at Barnes & Noble at 3400 Forest Drive in Columbia. The book signing starts at 7 p.m.

SULLIVAN'S ISLAND - Tall and striking, first lady Jenny Sanford answers the door of her Sullivan's Island beach house.

"Did you knock and I didn't hear you?" she asks. "I was doing laundry."

Calm and cool, there is no sense of a scorned woman trapped in a political scandal that has torpedoed her 20-year marriage. No hint exists either of the ambitious Wall Street vice president with the political savvy that helped catapult her husband into Congress and, later, into South Carolina's Governor's Mansion.

She is a regular mom doing her daily chores. Her house is surprisingly modest in its furnishings considering it sits on a prime oceanfront lot. Out front, an aluminum baseball bat lies in the yard. A basketball hoop stands near a garage crowded with bikes. And two dogs impatiently wait for four boys, ages 11-17, to come home from school.

At home is the same Jenny Sanford, mother and wife, portrayed in her new book, "Staying True," which is just out and billed by Ballantine Books as an inspirational memoir about holding to one's faith in life's trying times.

Jenny Sanford, 47, said she wrote it for two groups - women also struggling with life's unexpected twists and her sons so that they could hear her side of the story and know she has always put them and her Christian faith first.

She's considering donating a portion of the book's proceeds to several causes she's quietly involved with including cancer prevention, she said. But she needs to keep some of it for herself.

"I do need to pay some bills when we split," she said, referring to her pending divorce. The couple is due in family court later this month.

While Jenny Sanford is considered by many to be fabulously wealthy - her great-grandfather founded the Skil Corp., manufacturer of the world's first portable circular saw - she shakes her head when asked about her supposed wealth.

"That's not the case," she said.

And no, the book is not a setup for her own run for political office as some have speculated, she said.

"You've read the book. Does that sound like someone who wants to run for office?" she asks rhetorically. "I've wanted for us (Mark Sanford and me) to get out of politics for years. I was always hopeful that once we got out of the political world he would settle into a better routine with respect to me and with respect to the marriage.

"In respect with the kids, yeah, I was hopeful he would have little bit more connection with them. He plays with them beautifully but I was hopeful that he'd have a little bit more time (with them.)"

Instead of a couple's escape, Jenny Sanford is leaving the limelight alone and taking time to reflect on the past 20 years.

TELLING HER STORY

For the three months she was writing her book, Jenny Sanford cocooned herself in a small and comfy office at the top of the stairs. She'd settle into a chair at a small and crowded desk, gaze through a sliding glass door with a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean and write the good, the bad and the ugly of her marriage.

The result is an at times contradictory book. "Staying True" is at times an unfailingly honest examination of the quirks and failures of her soon-to-be ex-husband. But it is also peppered with nostalgia about the man Jenny Sanford fell in love with, whom she describes as honest, moral, attentive and focused on his family.

The stories are not salacious, she said, just a truthful account of what happened during her marriage.

She knows some people will read them and wonder how she hung in the marriage for so long.

"I can see how some people (could read these stories) and say, 'Oh gosh. How could you put up with that?' " she said. "But that's one of the challenges of marriage. How do you get to the point where you understand where someone else is coming from?"

She knows many of the stories are not flattering portrayals of her husband. But, she said, she tells them with no disrespect intended. It's just the way he is.

"He's not the warm, fuzzy, romantic type that other husbands might be," she said. "Mark is kind of an odd duck. He's a guy who was raised in a very a tough time on this farm. And once you understand that, other things make sense."

Many of the book's revelations were making the rounds via the media before the book was even officially released:

- Young Mark Sanford asking that they leave out the wedding vow about being faithful for fear that he could not live up to the lofty promise

- Mark Sanford skipping Lamaze classes when his wife was pregnant with their first child. "I've spent many long nights helping cows give birth and I know what to do when the baby gets stuck," the book quotes him as saying.

- Congressman Sanford leaving his wife in the hospital a few hours after she had delivered their fourth child so he could get back to Washington D.C., in time to cast congressional votes. She was alone the next day as they wheeled her into surgery to have her tubes tied.

In the book's prologue, Jenny Sanford gives a moment-by-moment look into June 24, 2009, when Gov. Sanford announced to the world he'd been having a year-long affair and had just returned from a secret trip to Argentina to visit his lover.

Moments after the press conference ended, Jenny Sanford's phone rang.

"How'd I do?" asked her husband, wanting her to continue in her political consultant role.

"Are you kidding me? You cried for her and said little of me or the boys," Jenny Sanford writes in her book.

If Jenny Sanford had gotten her way, it would have all remained private, she said Friday.

After first learning of the affair in January 2009, she got her attorney to draft a contract: If her husband would stop seeing the other woman, she would never mention the affair to anyone.

Mark Sanford refused to sign it.

"My choice was not to share anything," Jenny Sanford said Friday. "But Mark changed that when he came back from Argentina and told everything."

Jenny Sanford lays the blame of the affair at her husband's feet. A morally lost man, she said he must work to find his way back to the moral values that used to be the centerpiece of his life.

"From the perspective of our marriage and his values . . . he's got to work hard to get himself regrounded in that respect. But I don't think he ever lost sight of his political values," she said.

His unwavering political stances of small, efficient government are as solid today as when he first entered politics nearly 20 years ago, she said.

"He wakes up with a passion every day. He believes our spending is out of control," she said. "I still continue to praise him. He's still talking about the same things he talked about in his run for Congress in 1993."

Still, she knows he can be out of touch in some areas.

In her memoir, she writes of a birthday present, a diamond necklace, that her ordinarily frugal husband had one of his staffers pick out for her. She loved it.

But when her husband saw it, he returned it to the store, saying it wasn't worth the price.

"I think he must have been expecting the Hope Diamond," Jenny Sanford said "Whatever he was expecting did not connect with what he saw on my neck. It goes to show how out of touch he is with what things like jewelry cost."

But, in what seems typical of Jenny Sanford at this point in her life, she ends the story by defending him.

"That's who he is. That's who I married. Once I knew that he was upset I couldn't have in good conscience kept wearing it," she said. "He literally shakes at the thought of spending money unnecessarily."

NO REGRETS

If she had to do it all over again, Jenny Sanford said she would choose the same husband.

"You can't look back and say, 'If I had known then what I know now.' You have to look back at the choices you made at the time with the information you had at the time. And with the information I had at the time, yes I would make that decision again," she said.

Her future is wide open and she's uncertain what's next.

A return to the world of investment banking that she left behind in her 20s in order to get married and have children? Possibly. A political job? Unlikely.

"The real question is what I do when my children are gone. There are a lot of different options to think about," she said. "I'm at a place where I have no regrets. I don't know what's next for me but I have no fear."

Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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