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Labor's Elizabeth Dole.

The Capitol looms majestically outside her window. From her mahogany desk she can gaze down the Capitol Mall all the way to the Washington Monument. Below, tourists swarm, trying to imagine the intrigues and high-level goings-on behind so many closed doors.

Yet for Elizabeth Hanford Dole, United States secretary of labor, this view from her spacious second-floor office is more comforting and reassuring than awe-inspiring. On a warm spring day, knowing exactly where to look, she can spot her husband chatting with visiting constituents on the Capitol's second-floor balcony. On a wintry evening, she can watch the light atop the Capitol dome signal the fact that yes, the Senate remains locked in session, despite the late hour. Bob, she knows, won't be going home anytime soon, so she might as well bum the midnight oil herself.

It could be called "Paradise Along the Potomac." Never has a cabinet member shared hearth and home with a U.S. senator, let alone the highest-ranking Republican senator in the nation. And never has there been a couple with so much political clout--or charisma.

At 66, Kansas Sen. Robert Dole, both foes and allies agree, is witty, straight-spoken, and secure in his senate seat despite three failed bids for higher office-in 1976 as Gerald Ford's vice-presidential running mate, and in 1980 and 1988 in attempts to win the presidential nomination.

At 53, Elizabeth Dole is, admirers echo, a charming Southern belle with the steely core of a feminist. And moving into her second year as secretary of labor, she is proving once again to be a woman of influence. Her 41/2-year role as secretary of transportation under President Reagan (February 1983-October 1987), as well as a six-year tenure as a Federal Trade Commissioner (1973-1979), produced a seasoned politician whose name has been bandied about for posts ranging from Supreme Court justice to vice president to president.

There have, however, been fleeting moments in Elizabeth Dole's career when the power seemed to be waning. Feminists, for example, worried that she'd sold out when she resigned from her transportation cabinet post in October 1987 to help Senator Dole campaign for the presidency. Supporters feared she'd never regain her power.

They shouldn't have lost any sleep. Elizabeth Dole has always landed squarely on her feet. She laughs politely and with proper humility when asked if she was ever concerned about finding another job. Yet one gets the distinct impression that she's never really experienced job-hunting anxiety. At the Labor Department, she says, she has truly found her niche-"It's the People Department," she adds. She is extroverted, eager to speak before crowds but equally comfortable in one-on-one conversation. Work, she says in true political style, couldn't be going better; she ticks off goals and department agenda with impressive thoroughness.

Topping the list of Elizabeth Dole's priorities is the education and training of the nation's "at risk" youth-school dropouts; gang leaders; young people involved in drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancy. The secretary notes that her department not only helps turn young lives around, but also provides much-needed workers for businesses facing labor shortages. She has recently announced a seven-point "Call to Quality" designed to address the crisis caused by the increase in required skills and a workforce unprepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Health and safety ranks as the No. I concern of workers today. That is why she fought to increase the number of inspectors by more than 200-the first such increase in ten years-and is striving to increase safety in such high-risk areas as construction and manufacturing. She has cracked down on violators of the child labor laws, indicating that violations, whether motivated by greed or ignorance, will not be tolerated.

And because the department oversees the approximately $2 trillion in pension assets, secretary Dole has committed herself to vigorous enforcement of the pension laws and has increased enforcement personnel by one-third to root out fraud and abuse. It was Elizabeth Dole's concern for people that prompted her to visit the coal fields of southwest Virginia where members of the United Mine Workers were striking the Pittston Coal Company. After seeing firsthand how the strike was tearing communities, families, apart, she appointed a super mediator." And on December 31, 1989, Elizabeth Dole spent one of the happiest New Year's Eves of her life when the two parties shook hands at 10:00 p.m. to end the long and bitter dispute. The secretary has appointed a high-level commission to address the overriding issue in that strike and a pivotal issue in the 1990s-retiree health benefits and the enormous increase in healthcare costs. But how, you might wonder, does this superwoman do it all-handle the pressure-packed job, nourish the high-profile marriage, salvage her health, and retain her sanity? Obviously, money and power don't necessarily spell marital success, as innumerable wounded hearts-including Ivana and Donald Trump-can attest. Who, or what, makes the Dole marriage march on in apparent bliss after 15 years on the ultimate fast track? Take it from a reformed workaholic, Elizabeth Dole says: the secret lies in forsaking a bit of perfectionism in your work for a balanced life. "A career can be so demanding that, if you let it, it can sort of take over your life," she says, leaning forward to emphasize the point. "It's important to do your best, but I think there's a need for balance. That means time-a lot of time-for family and friends, being involved in things you think are worthwhile and important outside the job." It's this stepping back, this "taking time to smell the roses" philosophy, that doesn't come easily for Elizabeth Dole. It's a particularly difficult lesson for someone who spent her girlhood perfecting the art of perfection. To this day, there's more than a trace of the Old South in Mary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, born and reared in the small town of Salisbury, North Carolina, midway between Greensboro and Charlotte, "still the kind of place where people tip their hat in welcome and conversations start with a friendly Hey.' " Dressed impeccably, Elizabeth Dole-the name Mary never stuck--can't help playing the charming hostess, even during an interview.

"How about trying a piece of this candy?" she asks, settling into a soft office armchair and holding out a tin of tempting North Carolina sweets. "My mother sent these up, and they're delicious." Her voice is smooth and gentle, filled with dangling endings and unsounded consonants; her conversation is sprinkled with girlish laughter. In person, she looks much smaller than she does on television or in newspaper photographs, almost petite. Aides say that's because she is smaller, having lost extra pounds put on during the fried-chicken campaign circuit.

Liddy-Elizabeth was a mouthful for a toddler to pronounce-grew up in classic Southern style as the only daughter of John Van Hanford, a wealthy wholesaler. In Dole's 1988 autobiography, written with Senator Dole and titled The Doles: Unlimited Partners, she reminisces about a nurse, Mrs. Snowdie Bean; a grand family home with a formal spiral staircase; and a magnolia-shaded yard.

Her brother, John Van, Jr., was 13 years older, and his baby sister was evidently the doted-upon delight of her parents. To this day, she calls her mother, 89-year-old Mary Cathey Hanford, her best friend; she telephones home daily, and she even installed a second phone line so the secretary of labor could reach Mother in Salisbury without getting a constant busy signal. "Mother does like to visit on the phone," she explains.

Little Liddy gave her parents ample opportunities to dote. She excelled in school-both academically and socially. In her book, Dole writes of sterling straight A grades and prize-winning essays, as well as a silver loving cup from the United Daughters of the Confederacy for a high-school literary contest. Her first political aspirations came early: she was elected president of the third-grade bird club. Later, she confesses, she "resorted to less democratic methods" and simply declared herself president of a junior high school book club. When it came time for college, she applied to only one school, Duke, "for the simple reason that my brother, who I still have on a pedestal, had gone there." Her first letter home created quite a stir in the Hanford household: Liddy announced she was thinking of majoring in political science, adding, "I think it would be fascinating to learn about American government, history in the making." Her mother, who secretly wanted her daughter to study home economics and return to Salisbury, preferably moving in right next-door, was naturally concerned; she asked a friend, a professor at the University of North Carolina, for advice. The professor counseled that Elizabeth be allowed to continue her political pursuits. "We all need women in government," he said, and anyway, they all get married eventually."

But for Elizabeth, marriage was never a priority. She was pretty and popular, a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority and Duke's May Queen of 1958. But politics was her first love. She served as student government president for Duke's Women's College, went on to receive her master's in government and education at Harvard, and then tacked on a law degree from Harvard, class of 1965, for good measure. In between, she managed to land enterprising summer work on Capitol Hill-as a North Carolina senator's aide-and with the United Nations in New York, first as a tour guide and then in the general secretariat's office.

Given this penchant for hard work, it should come as no surprise that Elizabeth Dole never really met her match until the age of 36. It was then, in the spring of 1972, that Virginia Knauer, her boss and mentor on the President's consumer interests committee, found an excuse to play matchmaker between two attractive and equally ambitious Republicans. Knauer invited her deputy to join her in making a pitch to Sen. Robert Dole, then also serving as Republican party chairman, to have a consumer plank in the Republican platform.

When they first met that spring, Senator Dole was newly divorced; his first marriage had ended after 24 years, and the tall, dark junior senator from Kansas suddenly found himself in the enviable position of being Washington's most eligible bachelor. Elizabeth Dole remembers walking into his office and immediately thinking, "Gosh, he's an attractive man."

"He says he wrote my name on the back of his blotter," she says, smiling. "I'll never know if that was true or not." The senator, she says, didn't keep the evidence, and several months passed before he followed up with a telephone call.

But that first call led to another, and then another. "We had so many mutual interests and friends, it was amazing how much we had in common," she says. "I remember long conversations before we actually went out together-45-minute conversations on the phone. There was just so much to talk about."

Today, the Doles' hectic and high-powered lives leave far less time for those long heart-to-hearts. Sunday has, instead, become their one day of rest, and they guard that time zealously, squeezing in church, family, and friends. Senator Dole's daughter, Robin, 35, works as director of government relations for Century 21 in Washington; one of Secretary Dole's two nephews also lives in town and works in Sen. Richard Lugar's office. Often one or the other joins the Doles for Sunday brunch. It is a close family, Elizabeth Dole says, and she cites Robin, John, and Jody as ample substitutes for the children she never had.

Sundays, however, always begin with church-a routine that dates back to Salisbury, where Sunday was reserved for a hearty helping of her grandmother Cathey's Bible stories. But somewhere along the road to Washington, Elizabeth Dole says, the "Holy Grail of public service became very nearly all-consuming."

"Gradually, over a period of years," she says, "I realized that though I was blessed with a beautiful marriage and a challenging career, my life was close to spiritual starvation."

Luckily, she says, she found a wonderful church home at Washington's Foundry Methodist Church, and her pastor there encouraged her to join a weekly spiritual-growth group. Elizabeth Dole now says that at those sessions she came "face to face with a compulsion to do things right, and the companion drive to constantly please." In recognizing her problems, she says, she began to set them right.

Thus the Doles' new-"very new" -rule about not bringing work home during the week. "I try not to just have home be a continuation of the office, bringing out all the papers and so on," she says, adding that Senator Dole shares that goal. "There's no firm rule, but it's a part of backing off from the perfectionist or workaholic tendencies and trying to have more balance."

In the newly balanced Dole lifestyle, there's even time for exercise, once a rare commodity in the couple's busy day. The Doles have set up a treadmill-in front of the television, so they can watch the news while they exercise-and now take turns walking in place, aiming at 30 minutes a night.

If huffing and puffing on a treadmill sounds less than glamorous, consider a few more details of the Doles' fairy tale life along the Potomac. Elegant candlelit dinners in Washington's finest restaurants? Hardly. The two rarely have time to dine together during the week, and when they do, frozen dinners often make a quick meal. In fact, Elizabeth Dole isn't ashamed to sing the praises of a particular brand of low-cholesterol, low-fat frozen dinner the senator recently discovered at the supermarket.

And as for their home, it's certainly no sprawling $2 million mansion. Instead, the Doles still live in the senator's two-bedroom apartment from his bachelor days at the Watergate apartment complex. It's a prestigious address, just steps from the Kennedy Center and only 12 minutes from Capitol Hill, but a little too cramped for comfort. They meant to shop for a new place when they married 15 years ago, but "everything's been moving so fast ever since," Elizabeth Dole says.

They make do with one bedroom--the second they've converted into a den-and a living-dining room combination that leaves little space to entertain at home. The decor is top-notch, though: the senator, it seems, discovered a hidden talent in decorating and selected new carpeting, wallpaper, and upholstery to surprise his wife while she was out of town on business.

"It's very comfortable," Elizabeth Dole says, evidently fearful she may momentarily have sounded like a complainer. "And the dog-a miniature schnauzer named Leader-fits in fine."

When you get right down to it, the Doles' continuing real-life episode of "Loveboat Along the Potomac" looks very much like any two-career marriage anywhere. Instead of flitting from party to party, the couple prefers to unwind at home, often renting a movie or listening to music. They both like Humphrey Bogart films, she says, and they share similar tastes-"although Bob enjoys westerns," of which she's not so fond, and the senator "enjoys comedy a little more" than she does. Their favorite social event is an annual Big Chill-style Florida getaway with such old friends as Helen and Bob Strauss, the David Brinkleys, and Howard and Joy Baker.

But there remains one small detail that most definitely would upset the delicate balance of the Doles' finely tuned lives. No interview with Elizabeth Dole can be considered complete without asking the obvious. Does this people person," so familiar with the campaign trail and so skilled at public appearances, yearn for her own chance at the Oval Office?

"No plans," Dole says matter-of-factly. "I have no plans to run."

But would she say no to a presidential bid? "I think you have to initiate it yourself," she says. "And I don't really have any plans to do that."

Spoken like a savvy Washington insider whose view is of the Capitol, but whose sights just may be set on the Executive Mansion at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Perhaps as the first lady, or perhaps....
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Title Annotation:Secretary of Labor
Author:Bartley, Diane
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:May 1, 1990
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