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First lady of CBN; "Christian Woman of the Year" Dede Robertson earned a ,aster's nursing degree from Yale, taught nursing at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, and served as president of the Christian Business and Professional Women's Club of Tidewater.

FIRST LADY OF CBN

When Dede Elmer met her future husband at a collegiate get-acquainted mixer, no fireworks ignited--only her hair. Playing hostess and arranging goodies, she was busying herself at the refreshment table at the time. Trying to avoid the enthusiastic advances of an admirer shorter than she ("I'm not a little person," she acknowledges), she bent too close to the candles. That was when she noticed the burning smell.

"Before I even realized my hair was on fire, a tall man with bushy eyebrows was putting it out," she recalls more than 35 years later. "I think that's probably what attracted me to him. From that point on, I knew my life would never be dull."

She was right.

As Mrs. Pat Robertson, her world has come full circle--the relationship that began on an Ivy League campus in Connecticut continues on a lush campus the Robertsons helped to create in Virginia. But if CBN University is the culmination of their dream, it may not be the culmination of their travels. Robertson supporters across the country are urging one more stop for the twosome--Washington, D.C.

Dede (she pronounces it DeeDee) is aware of the promote-Pat-for-president push; in a tentative way, she shares the enthusiasm. "I'd like to be able to tune it out," she says frankly, "but I feel our nation needs the kind of leadership my husband has to offer. He had a tremendous knowledge of the world situation--in other words, foreign policy. He has a good knowledge of economics. He knows about taxation: He is a tax lawyer, even though he doesn't practice law. I think his greatest strength is his knowledge of people and how they work and how they react. And his compassion for people."

An endorsement? Of sorts. That a political bid--even a precampaign test of the waters--would take Pat on the road even more than his duties as president of the Christian Broadcasting Network evokes only her fleeting concern. She accepts it with a shrug. She's used to it, after all. "This is something I've learned to live with, and as a result, I have a lot of inner resources," she says. "I've taught myself to knit, sew, embroider, and upholster furniture.

"Then there's my writing. . .it takes up more time than I thought it would," she adds. Her books in print include My God Will Supply (Chosen Books) and The New You (Thomas Nelson Publishers), which documents her personal day-to-day fitness plan. In addition, she contributes a monthly column to Christian Life magazine, serves as the design decorator for the sprawling CBN complex, and actively fulfills her role as the United States' delegate to the Inter-American Commission of Women, an appointment she accepted five years ago from the U.S. Secretary of State.

The trappings of all her activities pleasantly clutter her third-floor office in the administration center of CBN University; the furnishings reflect her passion for color and her knack for mixing 17th- and 18th-century antiques with well-crafted reproductions. Swatches of bright yellow and blue chintz are fanned over her desk, crewel pictures and collectors' plates dot the walls, and yellow-print chairs serve as catchalls.

Dede could use a secretary for all the correspondence her interests generate, but always a do-it-yourselfer, she sees no need to change. "My main duty here is that I'm design director, and everything--every piece of furniture, every color paint--has to be approved by me," she explains. "It began as a hobby, but then I started studying it seriously. I found that antiques and period reproductions cost less than modern furniture and give you a warmer feeling. We were able to pick up a lot of pieces in England before we moved here, and we'll probably make another trip before we build the new conference center." The decor she chooses is a reflection of herself: elegant yet comfortable, imposing but graceful, classic and warm.

Her surroundings haven't always been as well appointed as those at CBN, however, and her work only recently has involved creating professional settings for a world-wide ministry. "My degree from Ohio State is in social administration, which usually leads to a career in social work. I was mainly interested in helping juvenile delinquents," she says. "Later, I got my master's degree in nursing from Yale. It was something I always felt I wanted to do."

The nursing program not only enabled her to meet her future husband but instilled in her a lifelong interest in nutrition and preventive health, two subjects that served her well as the mother of four youngsters and the wife of a struggling young pastor. Her specialization, maternal and child care, did not stop her from visiting steel mills and rubber plants across the country, studying industrial health, and teaching on-campus nursing classeS. She particularly enjoyed her instructional duties and later assumed a post as an assistant professor of nursing at Tidewater Community College for eight years. "If I was led to nursing for a purpose," Dede says, "it was probably to meet my husband, but of course, I've gotten a great deal of satisfaction from my career, and it certainly helped me raise my family. In teaching, I probably was able to contribute a lot just from the Christian aspect."

Because of the flexibility of her nursing career, she was occasionally able to ease her family's financial burden by working odd hours and alternating weekends. It wasn't easy, and she doesn't recommend it. "If mothers can just wait a little while, children do go to school--they do grow up. It's those important first years before school that they really need a mother's 'being there.' For one thing, that's where you start encouraging creativity...that's where you start making sand castles, finger-painting, and all sorts of projects that help them to develop their unique ideas," she says.

Her own four children--Tim, Elizabeth, Gordon, and Ann--have now left the nest for busy careers and blossoming families. Tim, born during Dede's nursing-school days, is executive vice president of television at CBN; Elizabeth recently resigned as the operations manager of a Dallas TV station to enjoy her new baby; Gordon followed in Pat's footsteps to law school and now has a practice in Norfolk; and Ann oversees CBN's founders' department. Dede and Pat, proud of their children, describe themselves as "doting grandparents" of three little ones.

The Robertsons readily admit that their kids passed through all the typical stages of the teen-age years. "I consider them very normal," Dede says. "A normal child is going to experiment with about everything, and I'm pretty sure my children have experimented with almost everything. Some of the things I don't know anything about, and I'm just as happy not knowing about them. What they did in some of their experiments they knew would not wash well at home. They tried it anyhow. But I think every one of them has come to find the Lord's way is best, and it's the way they're happiest."

Dede may have let them choose their own directions, but she was always available for a word of advice if solicited. Having recognized that local teens had no gathering place to call their own, she provided one. "I had a teen-agers' coffeehouse in our garage for about two years when Elizabeth was a sophomore in high school," she recalls. "It was just a place where they could come, play their music, and sing their songs. They decorated it themselves and had their own Coke machine. Sometimes musicians would come in and play for them. It didn't start out to be big, but it grew. At one point, we had about a hundred teen-agers."

The coffeehouse closed when the younger Robertsons progressed to college, but most of Dede's activities continue to focus on children. She expresses a strong sentiment that children need lots of "TLC" from a mother figure, especially during the vital preschool years. She's pleased that CBN has recently launched a system of "mother care" to replace overcrowded and institution-like day-care centers. The goal is to keep children in a homelike atmosphere with a dominant mother figure. "This is one of the things I'm pushing right now," Dede says. "We don't have it all set up, and it's still in the experimental stage. In fact, we don't even have a good name for it yet. But the idea is to encourage mothers either to stay home and take care of other people's children, or put their children in the homes of mothers who are staying home.

"The program will eventually be under the direction of local churches that will offer training. Once a week the day-care moms will come together at the church for a refresher lesson to give them a sense of being part of something better and greater, while instilling a feeling of achievement and counteracting the loneliness that women get when they stay at home. We're finding the two challenges to the concept are motivating mothers to take the training and helping them to overcome a lack of self-esteem. Unfortunately, today it's more 'in' to say you're an account executive than a day-care mother."

Dede sees herself as having a ministry to women; she reaches out to them via her magazine column, "All in a Woman's Day," and by keynoting retreats, seminars, and meetings. She encourages her audiences to realize their full potential and admits to having little patience with apathetic or passive women. Get involved, she prods them. "Some women don't know where to begin, so they don't begin at all. An awful lot of women are very, very guilty of having 'pity parties.' They sit back and enjoy their martyrdom. They're not willing to get out, get started, and take chances," she says. Her advice? "Find something that interests you...whether it's gardening, cooking, or reading," she says. "And I don't mean romance novels!"

Mrs. Robertson speaks from experience. She and Pat have a long history of taking chances and getting involved. No pity parties for her. When Pat announced he was leaving a successful business career and a promising law practice for the ministry, she encouraged him. When he turned down a position at a comfortable church and opted for an inner-city ministry in New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant area, she gulped and followed. Now, settled comfortably in an elegant Williamsburg setting she helped create, she's faced with the possibility of more change, a new challenge, and even a political campaign.

But Dede is game--even if it means a loss of privacy and all the scrutiny and criticism that plague prospective First Families.

"Well, we've had some of that," she says. "I'm sure there'll be more. It's something you have to learn to live with and not let get under your skin."

Does that mean that Dede Robertson would agree to a little grass-roots stumping of her own? She nods and mumbles a "probably so."

Then she grins. After all, she always knew life with Pat Robertson would never be dull.
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Title Annotation:wife of Pat Robertson
Author:Miller, Holly G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1986
Words:1826
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