Childhood friend and a Clinton campaigner. She first raised money for Bill in a pail for his '74 congressional race.
Interviewed May 13, 1996
FL: Can you talk about your memories of Hot Springs?
[It was a] big town. And I think only years later are we really looking back, those
of us that grew up in Hot Springs, to realize how magical it really was. It
was a town, I guess, unique mainly because it was a resort. And being a
resort, people came from all over the country and from all over the world. The
city had no livelihood or economic base other than tourism. So people would
come to see the horse races, the play on the three lakes that surrounded the
little town in the valley. They would come from all over the country and
probably the world, for the hot springs, the natural hot thermal baths. They
would come to walk up and down the streets and see the souvenir shops and the
auction houses. People, movie stars came to Hot Springs. They would come to
make appearances at matinees at the movie theaters. We had more movie theaters
than any other little town in Arkansas. And I can remember as a kid seeing
movie stars, seeing Roy Rogers, seeing Trigger come to Hot Springs, just for a
matinee so the kids could stop and say hello.
Then many came to perform at the
night clubs. The very sparkling night life of Hot Springs. It was a magical
town. I think that it was a town where you were surrounded by so many people
of different nationalities, different religions. People came to town to try
matzo ball soup at Molly's Restaurant on Central Avenue or to go up the street
to the little Bohemian restaurant, or out in the southern part of town to the
Greek restaurant. These people had come from all over the world and lived in
Hot Springs. A lot of older people. And I think it was unique in that
respect, because we were surrounded by older people who had moved and made
permanent residence in Hot Springs, and then there were people who came
periodically, seasonally, for the lakes and the races.
And in a lot of the big
hotels there would be dancing every Friday and Saturday night. And you would
see people sitting in big Adirondack chairs on the front porches of the big
hotels who had come from New York to take the hot baths and bask in the sun out
on the verandahs of the Arlington Hotel, I can remember it as a kid. They had
these big ducks. I don't know how to describe them other than they are large
amphibian vehicles that drive through town and pick up tourists and then they
would drive out to the lakes. And then they could drive right into the water
and take you on a tour of the lake. And all of these things were going on
We were just average kids growing up in the `50's and early `60's.
We were good kids. You know it was an era when you didn't smoke and you didn't
drink and you made good grades and you participated in every school
organization and every community organization. And then you did what just
normal kids do. You cruise around in cars listening to music and stopping at
Cook's Ice Cream where they would bring big fountain sodas out to the cars. Or
you would stop at Cecil's Pull a Bar and have a hamburger. We were just normal
kids. But living in a town that was very extraordinary in my opinion. Hot
Springs was such a hub of activity that every kid who was in a band, for
instance, would come to Hot Springs for the state band festival. Every kid who
was in some music program would come to Hot Springs for the music festival.
Conventions were held there. It was such a hub of activity that people were
constantly, there was an influx from all over the state and from around the
country. At one point it was really kind of a high hot spot for the Southwest.
It was just a very different community. Little, but very metropolitan in some
FL: What about the uniqueness, the co-mingling with the gambling?
When we were growing up, we had a horse race track which was legalized
paramutual betting. And Oklahoma Race Track has been there as long as I can
remember. And there was another gambling side of Hot Springs which was
actually illegal casino gambling and slot machines in a lot of the restaurants.
Although as kids we knew those things existed we were too young. You weren't
allowed to go into the race track until you were 16 years old. And you were
not allowed ever to go into the casinos.
But I'm sure that it brought a lot of excitement to Hot Springs because I can
remember when Liberace performed at one of the night clubs and Phyllis Diller
performed. People like that would come in as a result of the night life. That
was primarily because they could afford it. The nightclubs would hire big
entertainers and so we would see their names in the newspapers and their
pictures in the newspapers. It was a part of life that brought a lot of
difference to Hot Springs. We as kids were not directly involved in it, but it
Memories of Hot Springs growing up and knowing how unique it was?
We knew it was slightly different than other towns because we had so many
different offerings that you didn't find in other towns in Arkansas. We had an
alligator farm. We had an IQ Zoo where very smart animals did very clever
tricks. We had big ducks that would take you touring through downtown and out
onto the lakes. Because it was different I don't think we knew how different
it was. We never stopped to say, "Isn't this unusual? Isn't this town
different?" We knew it was different. You'd drive down the street and you'd
see auction house after auction house, souvenir shop after souvenir shop. That
was not typical for any other town in Arkansas. People would move here from
New York and make it their residence. People would come from Chicago and
retire in Hot Springs. We were very well aware of, sort of, our center in
Arkansas and in the universe, but we never sat and talked about it in terms of
FL: Let's talk a little bit about that American Graffiti childhood you had in
Hot Springs with Bill.
I've know Bill Clinton since 1951- 52 when we were young
children, starting in the first and second grade at St. John's Catholic School
in Hot Springs. I mentioned earlier about some of the older people in Hot
Springs and the way kids were involved with older people. I can remember Bill
Clinton's stepfather, Roger Clinton, worked at the car dealership around the
corner from my parents' movie theater. And it was a little corridor that we
traveled, that we'd walk across the street and look in the Coca-Cola bottling
company window and watch the conveyor belt go around with the small glass coke
bottles. And we'd walk across the street then and stop in Brown's Sporting
Goods to say hello to Tilford Brown and look at the sporting equipment. And
then we'd walk up the street and stop in the bakery and have a pastry, and then
we'd go to the Liberty Cafe and have a bologna sandwich. And then we'd
go in the movie theater. And then we'd go up the street to Papa's Restaurant
and have a sandwich.
But you would know all those people along the street and they would know you.
And it was kind of fun to be a part of the lives of those people who were, in
many instances, the parents of kids we went to school with. But we'd stop in
and actually check on them and engage with them and we knew these people. It
was as if there was no age distinction here among our friends. I can remember
times when Bill Clinton and a lot of kids from his class would go riding in
cars listening to Elvis Presley on the radio and rolling the windows down and
singing "Love Me Tender" at the top of your lungs. And then driving up to
Cook's Ice Cream and ordering chocolate marshmallow sundaes and they would
bring in a big silver compote out to the window. It was a fun time.
school was very much the soul of our maneuverings as kids. Whether it be
Randall School, that was the elementary school that we attended, or high
school, we were very involved in school and all the activities in school. We
loved our friends, and Bill Clinton was very involved in the band and was the
drum major. I was very involved in the thespians and the theater groups. And
we all worked in student council. You did those things, those activities
together which kind of brought you closer together over a life time.
FL: On Saturdays you would do what?
Well, a lot of times we would hang out at Bill's house some when he lived on
Park Avenue in South Hot Springs and play cards or watch something special on
television, Ed Sullivan. I really can't remember. I don't remember anything
special on a Saturday night. I worked a lot. I worked in my folks' theater so
I was tied up a lot of Saturday nights.
FL: You had a wonderful story that you told me about seeing Bill walk off to
church by himself.
I lived in the same area of Hot Springs where Bill lived when he was young. And
my mother, who was a single parent, would get her three children up and get us
all ready to go to Sunday school and church and it was a major ordeal because
we would think of every excuse in the world not to go. And as we would drive
to church, there was an intersection at Park and Holly street where we stopped
every morning and then turn right to go downtown to the Methodist church where
we went to church. And I can remember looking many, many times to the left and
seeing Bill Clinton walking down Park Avenue to Park Place Baptist Church all
dressed in his suit and tie and carrying his Bible. And he would be by himself
walking down the sidewalk toward church. And I often thought, "How does he get
there?" I mean here he is going to church and my mother has done everything
she could to pull it together and force us to go to church. But it's a very
vivid memory and Bill must have been 7, 8, 9 years old. Something in that
range. I can see him to this day, walking to his church every Sunday morning
when we would stop at the intersection there.
FL: Nobody was walking to church with him?
No, Virginia didn't, didn't go to church with him often. But he did get up and
go to church every Sunday and has as long as I've known him. Always carrying
his Bible with him.
FL: Let's just talk about Virginia. Larger than life.
Amazing, amazing. Virginia is, was one of the most amazing people I've ever
known and I think everyone who knew her would tell you the same thing. She was
very much like a star. She illuminated every room she entered. She radiated a
warmth that she shared with everyone who ever passed her way. She was just
very special, very magical. She had a wonderful laugh. I loved to hear her
laugh. And she laughed all the time. If Virginia was not laughing, you knew
there was something serious, something wrong. She had this positive, very
upbeat outlook on life. Always had that. Up until her death. She was always
very, very positive. And she believed in putting her best foot forward, and in
putting her best face forward. As we talked about, and a lot of people have
commented, Virginia always looked so perfect.
Virginia took time, on occasions I've seen her really get prepared to go out
and seize the day. She believed that you need to put your best face on in order
to, it made her feel good. It made her feel like she was doing her best and it
was out of respect for the people that she would meet during the day. And she
was very organized. And I can remember watching her put her makeup on. And she
would very carefully, everything was in perfect order, everything was in its
place on her dressing table in her bathroom, and she would very carefully put
on her foundation and her very expressive eyebrows, and her very stylish
eyelashes. And with a brush and pencil she would paint on her red lipstick.
And, with every hair in place, then she would be ready to go out and seize the
Virginia would begin her day very, very early. I'm not a morning person
so I always admired the fact that she was up and at 'em very early. And it
took some time. To put her makeup on and get her hair perfect and her clothes
all coordinated. And she would go to a local cafe. The same one where
she'd see her regular group of friends very early, before she went on to the
hospital where she was a nurse/anesthetist. And she would walk into the
cafe and say good morning to every person in the room. As she was
sauntering to her table she'd pat 'em on the back and say, "Where have you
been? I've missed you," and somebody would make a joke and she'd laugh and
then she'd go have her coffee and breakfast. And then on to the hospital where
she was a nurse/anaesthetist and there were many, many people who said "If
Virginia's not there I'm not having my surgery this morning." And all the time
she was beautifully made up, totally dressed, ready for whatever happening
there was during the day.
And during the racing season it was very fun. They would finish all their
cases by noon so that Virginia could get to the racetrack on time for race
number one. Off she would go, still with her best face ready to seize the day.
She was amazing. And she was terribly clear in her loyalties to her family and
her friends. If you were Virginia's friend, you were her friend for life,
regardless. She never forgot you. She always was very interested in the little
people in life. At Virginia's funeral, there were over 3,000 people. And
that's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in a town the size of Hot Springs.
And the people came from all walks of life. People who worked in restaurants,
people who worked at service stations, people who waited tables in restaurants.
It was amazing the way that people loved Virginia, and that's because of this
warmth she radiated to all of them. All of her life I remember that.
FL: Describe that flamboyant part of Virginia.
Virginia was absolutely full of life. She loved to be among people. She loved to
engage in conversation with people. She loved to go to hear the performers who
came in from all over the country at some of the night clubs. I can remember
hearing her talk about how she loved Liberace's performances. She loved his
outrageous costumes and his outrageous jewelry. And Virginia would dress to
the hilt. Red was her favorite color. She wore a lot of red. And you'd
notice her when she came because she was beautifully made up and had a lot of
red lipstick and often times a black velvet jacket with red on it and she was
very sparkly and glittery. She loved the nightclub. That was a part of, when,
in times she didn't have to work or on the weekends, she would go to hear
performances by these famous people. It was fun for her. There are a lot of
people in Hot Springs who love that type of fun and activity and Virginia was a
part of it.
And she loved the horse races. Virginia was not a big better at the horse
races. She was $2 better. But she knew those horses and she knew the trainers
and she knew the jockeys and she knew their families and she kept up with
them. And when it would come racing season, you knew where to find her. She
was in the same box at the race track the whole 33 days or 43 days of the meet.
So everyone knew where to find Virginia. She loved the races.
FL: Were there people in Hot Springs who were taken aback by Virginia, thought
she went too far?
I don't think anybody in Hot Springs, people loved Virginia. One of the things
about Hot Springs and one of the things that's unique, there was very little
class distinction in Hot Springs. Everyone was middle class. There might be,
you just don't think of a very big distinction in class in Hot Springs in the
'50's, early '60's, when we grew up. People loved Virginia. Everybody that I
can think of. My mother's friends, kids that I went to school with, Bill's
friends. People really liked Virginia, everyone knew Virginia and she always
had a smile or a wave for everybody. So I really, I don't recall anything
other than admiration. People really just had fun when they were with
FL: You were one of the very few people that she told all her problems to.
That's because there was no age distinction in Hot Springs. I've had a lot of
very serious family discussions with Virginia over a life time and I was aware
that there were some sadness and some problems where Roger Clinton, Sr. was
concerned. And these were hard on their family. But over the years I think
everyone made peace with Roger and when Roger was sick, Bill Clinton spent
many, many weekends checking on him when he was at Duke University Hospital. I
think Virginia always had a very warm spot for Roger Clinton and cared very
much about him. They just had some hard times and we did talk about them but
not to any great depth.
Virginia had such a positive outlook that she didn't dwell on the things that
were, for other people, downers and sad and could make you sit around feeling
sorry for yourself. That was not Virginia. Nor was that Bill Clinton. He
never talked about the fact that his stepfather was an alcoholic. He never, to
his kids, friends at school. Very few people knew that. He didn't dwell on
that. He had the same positive outlook that his mother did. And those were
things that happened at home and they would get through them and they did. And
were stronger as a result. But they certainly didn't dwell on them and share
them with a lot of people.
FL: Do you remember when she did confide in you?
I do remember conversations about their family and Roger, but a lot of those
discussions focused more on what she was doing. She was trying to protect her
boys and teach them the things that she thought were important. We talked
about things like, and a lot you didn't have to talk about with Virginia
because there were two things about Virginia that you always knew. She was very
loyal and you knew that the two things that she felt were the most important
about people in general: you had to be honest, you had to tell the truth and
you had to be fair. And honesty and fairness were rules where Virginia was
concerned. There was no gray. It was strictly black or white here. You told
the truth or you didn't. You were fair or you didn't. And those things as it
related to her two boys and their upbringing were very clear and you would hear
her say that. "This is the way it is going to be. If people treat me fairly.
If people are honest, this is the way I believe the boys should be raised.
This is the way I deal with people." And she was very straightforward in that
respect. You never had to dig Virginia up to find out how she felt about
something. She would let you know.
FL: Her funeral -- how crowded it was, and what the streets looked like that
Virginia's funeral was quite a tribute, in and of itself, to Virginia. It was
held at the city's civic auditorium to accommodate the numbers of people who
wanted to attend. There were people from all over the country. There were
people from every walk of life from Hot Springs. When you entered the
auditorium, there were 3,000 seats filled and then there were people standing
at the back of the auditorium. The aisles were very wide and had a dark red
carpet from the back door to the front and then around the front of the stage.
And all sides of the aisle, the front of the stage were covered with flowers. I
don't think I've ever seen this many flowers. And they were sent from, you'd
see on that had a big horseshoe on it and it was sent from the racing
association. And there would be another one that would say, "These two roses
came from all the employees at the hamburger joint at the corner." There were
flowers lining the building, outside on the, I guess just as you entered the
auditorium, there were speakers for the few people who literally just could not
get in the building. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. And then
after the funeral, when Virginia, the motorcade and everything went to Hope
where she would be buried, there were people all along the roads. No one had
any idea that the motorcade and the funeral procession was coming down this
highway or another. But there were people lining the streets all the way to
Hope, Arkansas with people waving and saying, "We love you Virginia. We'll
miss you Virginia." I mean, it was the most touching, memorable thing I think
I can recall. What a wonderful service. And all the music. It was exactly
like she would have wanted.
FL: How do you see Virginia living on in Bill?
Virginia and Bill were really like twinkies. Virginia and Bill were very, very
close. She will always be there as a part of his life. And I know it's a loss
and a sadness that he will have for a long time and not talk about it much, but
I know that he thinks about his mother a lot. And I think her positive attitude
and her belief that you can work through any problem, you can resolve any
difficulty as long as you're honest and fair, and treat people that way. I
think Bill Clinton will always behave that way and will always hear his
mother's voice saying those words.
FL: You scheduled him for a campaign?
I did work in scheduling for Bill Clinton when he was Governor in his first
term. And that was an amazing feat to try to schedule a day for Bill Clinton
when he wanted to work 24 hours a day. I've never seen people try to put as
many things in one day. And he's always been that way. You know that little
rabbit that goes like this, that just the battery never runs down. He has this
unbelievable amount of energy. That's another thing he gets from his mother,
she had tremendous energy. But scheduling for him is very complex because he
wanted to attend everything, he wanted to see every person who wanted to see
him. He wanted to deal with every problem that you could ever think of. He
wanted every school group who wanted to come and see him. So sometimes you had
to try to help him save himself from himself. But it was fun. It was
interesting because we really did get most of those people in. I can remember
one time though when Chelsea was born. And a typical day in the office would be
for the then Governor Clinton to arrive and have appointments in the office
every fifteen minutes all day long, then take a short break for lunch, have
meetings in the afternoon, press conferences, etc., etc. all day long, meetings
in the evening, dinners in the evening, a very full day.
But when Chelsea was born I decided to send him a memo to find out how he
wanted me to adjust his schedule. So I ask, "Would you like to come in early
and leave early? Would you like to come in late and take off at four every
afternoon? Would you like to have extra time during the noon hour? Would you
like to not work at all on Fridays?" And I got the memo back 2 days later,
checked. He wanted to do every one of those. And initialled it and thought,
"This is going to be great. We have 30 minutes left in the whole week now to
deal with government. He was going to stay at home and be with Chelsea."
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