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?
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--
Now tell us about Hillary's journey to Arkansas.
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?
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?
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.
Do you remember conversations with her about Methodism?
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.
Any other thoughts on that drive many years ago with Hillary down to
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.