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Sara Ehrman, Hillary's landlady in Washington when Hillary worked on the Watergate inquiry committee. She drove with Hillary to Arkansas when Hillary decided to follow Bill.

Interviewed June 15, 1996


FL: Can you talk about your first impression of Bill Clinton?

EHRMAN:

I first met and saw Bill Clinton in the fall of 1972 in the McGovern campaign. I was with Senator McGovern who was the candidate, on his plane, and we landed in San Antonio, Texas where McGovern was going to do an event at the Alamo. And I looked out of the plane and there standing at the foot of the stairs of the plane was this tall, handsome guy, I think in a white suit. I may be making that up, but I think he was wearing a white suit, and I realized that it was the campaign manager. I had not met him before. And he came upstairs to brief Senator McGovern on what was going on in San Antonio that day. And I thought, "Who is this kid?" There were some pretty senior people on that plane, who is this kid coming up to brief Senator McGovern? And obviously he respected very much what he had to say because he listened intently. But I couldn't help thinking, "Who is this kid?" And we went, did the event. It was in some ways a joke, the advance was not perfect, the candidate got there late after everybody left and they were in front of the Alamo with no crowd there, and it was ok.

But the kid, as I thought of him, made a real impression on me because he was very self-confident. Very self-assured, not at all diffident about talking to a senior United States Senator who was running for President, and I remembered him. I saw Hillary after that, I met her a couple of days later in that same time frame, and I knew, I'd heard that she and Bill Clinton were in law school together and they were going out together. And as I told you before, I had this reaction when I met her, of a wonderful, smart, sort of hippyish-looking, serious, young woman, and then we resumed our relationship in Washington.

I was surprised at the combination. I was surprised. I was somewhat surprised. She was so absolutely midwestern, he was so absolutely southern. He was a charming Arkansas boy. He really was charming and winning. And she was smart and direct and abrupt and focused, and when we traveled that long journey that has assumed almost mythic proportions--

FL: Now tell us about Hillary's journey to Arkansas.

EHRMAN:

I had my doubts. I had some serious doubts. While we were political colleagues, I'm old enough to be Hillary's mother. And I had my doubts, I certainly did. I thought this young woman can do anything she wants. She can go to New York or Washington and be in the most powerful imaginable position for a young woman just out of one of the best law schools in the country with a reputation that she had and here she was, having been in the middle of the Watergate hearings and being so important and being a protege of John Doer and a disciple I would add of Doer and his strong right hand person.

She was giving it up, I thought in my mind, giving it up, my generation had broken the stereotype of women striving, and women succeeding as being pushy, that stereotype was hopefully broken, and I wanted her to stay here and to be a surrogate for those in my generation who had had such a tough time. And I asked her on that drive, "Why are you doing it? Why are you going to this rural place?" I didn't know Arkansas at the time, I didn't know anything except the stereotypes of Arkansas, and I said it to her, and she has said it again to me, "Why are you going, why are you doing this?" And every twenty miles or so as Hillary would say, every twenty miles I'd stop the car and I'd say "Are you crazy? Why are you doing this? Why? It's a three day drive from Washington? Why aren't you going to stay here. We could get you a good apartment, you could have a fabulous job. You could fight for what you believe in. Why are you doing this?" And you know it was joking, we had such fun on that trip, we had such fun, we ate at greasy spoons and stayed at Mickey Mouse places and had a wonderful time. But she would respond to me, when I would say why are you doing it, she'd say "I love him, I love him, I want to be with him, I want to try it. I want to see."

And when I left her, I had this forlorn feeling that she was going almost into exile. And I was so wrong. I was so wrong. I have spent a lot of time in Arkansas now, I love Arkansas. It has a long intellectual tradition dating back to the 1830s and 40s. It's the home of J. William Fulbright to mention one. My stereotypes of Arkansas were absolutely wrong. But driving down, I returned again and again to the question, Why are you doing this? Why didn't he come up here? He could teach at Georgetown. He could do anything he wanted to do, he's so smart, why? Why don't you make him come up here? And clearly she thought their lives were there. And she was right.

FL: Did you sense that there was some confusion for her?

EHRMAN:

There must have been confusion. There must have been doubt, there must have been apprehension. She was leaving behind a way of life that fitted her so well and she was going to a very very different culture and a different society and different surroundings and she expressed the confidence that must have had an underlay of uncertainty and apprehension and when she got there, when I finally got her there, and I left her I know she felt as uncertain in a sense as she could, that this was a tremendous step for her. A tremendous step. She was a star in her law school. She was a star in Washington. And she's still a star.

FL: Do you remember the drive back up by yourself?

EHRMAN:

Actually, I had someone else drive my car up. And I flew back and I felt very sad. I really felt very sad. I thought that's probably going to be the end of the relationship that we had. Of course I was totally wrong. It wasn't the end at all. It was just a phase. I next saw them when Bill Clinton ran for Attorney General. I happened to be there at a meeting with the Governor. That must have been '76 I guess. And boy he had changed. He was fully in charge and fully in possession of himself and on his home territory and he was fabulous. I saw her then, just a little while and I saw them on and off through the years, stayed with them.

One of the most important things in her life is her devotion to the Methodist Church where she was brought up. And one of the most important tenets of the Methodist Church is for people to try to do good, to improve society. To do good for others. And I think that Hillary was imbued with that philosophy from the time she was a small child. Frankly, Hillary is one of the few people I know who is a genuinely religious person. And I think that in terms of what she saw for herself in the future, whatever it was, that it would have to embody that need, that commitment to make life better, to make society better and to devote her life to improving the lot of people in general and that certainly is exemplified by her work with the Children's Defense Fund and her many other activities in Arkansas as well, and I don't mean to dwell on this and to go on and on about it, but I think it's a side of Hillary that people too often ignore. Or discount.

FL: Do you remember conversations with her about Methodism?

EHRMAN:

No, not in the early days. We certainly have subsequently, but not in the early days. The strongest demonstration that I've seen in Hillary's faith and belief is on the way up from Charlottesville, Virginia when they were coming up here in early 1993 for Bill Clinton to be inaugurated, we stopped in Culpepper, Virginia for a prayer service. And I saw them both in church and I'd never seen that before. And they were both genuinely praying. As I say I don't know many people who have that strong faith and Hillary certainly has it.

FL: Any other thoughts on that drive many years ago with Hillary down to Arkansas?

EHRMAN:

You know, that long drive was for me, a very meaningful one, and it certainly must have been for Hillary because that car was loaded with all her stuff and she was going down to a new life and we did have some pretty heavy conversations. But I will say that we had a lot of fun. She has a very raucous laugh, she sees humor in everything.

We drove through Memphis on our way to Fayetteville, and there was a Shriners convention there and there was a bunch of drunk Shriners riding around on little motor scooters with little funny hats on their heads and we couldn't get through Memphis and it was hilarious. And we couldn't stop laughing. And then we went over the bridge into Arkansas, and by those long miles of rice farms, and I remember Hillary saying it's pretty flat isn't it? Pretty flat. It's flat. We drove and drove we stopped for fish frys and for barbecues and for all the things that our nutritionists tell us we're crazy to eat now and we ate all of them.

And as we began to get up into the hills and we began to relax a little bit it was pretty it was beautiful, but oh God, it was so far away. And she was joking and laughing, saying I wonder what my life is going to be like, I wonder who I'm going to talk to, I wonder what clothes I'm going to wear. I wonder what I'm going to do. Hillary loves clothes. She will frequently say where'd you get that? Where'd you buy it? How much did you pay for it? She loves clothes, likes to talk about food, we did eat a lot on that journey. And I wanted to say one thing. The contrast between the Hillary of 1974 driving up to Fayetteville, and the wife of the President-elect driving from Charlottesville, Virginia in a van along Route 29 with hundreds of people lining the road and waving, solemnly waving, and there was the same Hillary, 20 years later, going to be the First Lady, and it was pretty awesome. It was pretty awesome. And she was quite solemn.

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