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Tipper Gore: the vice president's first lady.

Knowing firsthand that `it's not easy being a kid today,' concern for today's children tops her list of priorities.

It was another grueling day along the Clinton-Gore campaign trail. Tipper Gore had already tapped her toes to bluegrass and shaken the hands of an endless line of firefighters, but she was especially "up" that day and an idea was percolating in her mind.

What if an anonymous admirer were to call her spouse on the "Larry King Live" show airing later that night and flirt with the vice presidential candidate? What would Al's reaction be.? Tipper decided to find out. First, she called the producer and told him, "Don't tell AI or Larry King." She then worked on disguising her voice.

Neither Gore nor King had any idea who was on the line when a rehearsed Tipper phoned the show.

"Hi, Senator Gore, I know I probably shouldn't say this, but I think you're a very handsome man," the "mystery" caller said. "Are you available for a date sometime?"

A very surprised AI Gore blushed, stammered, then quickly but politely refused.

"We had an absolute belly laugh," recalls Jean Nelson, Tipper's campaign director and an attorney with the Tennessee Attorney General's Office. "That famous Ashville call to `Larry King Live' is the quintessential Tipper."

"We had a good time during the campaign," Nelson adds, "and that was one of the things Tipper really wanted to do. She felt that the spirit of the campaign could be helped by a focus on humor."

Evidently her strategy worked.

Born Mary Elizabeth Aitcheson in August 1948 to John "Jack" and Margaret Ann Aitcheson, she was dubbed "Tipper" by her mother early on: a nickname derived from a favorite nursery rhyme.

An only child, Tipper was raised by her mother and grandmother. Her father owned a large and successful plumbing supply business: he has since remarried and today is on happier terms with Tipper and her own family.

"Sometimes it is better for people to divorce," Tipper reflects now. "It was a motivating factor for me. I learned that it takes a lot of hard work to make a relationship work. Fortunately, I found a man early on with whom I fell in love at first sight and am still in love with today. Our marriage represents a lot of loving work on both sides."

Tipper met her future husband in high school. At a graduation party held in St. Albans, Al asked the young lady to dance, and romance began. Gore invited Tipper Aitcheson on a date. She accepted. Several dates later, the two began talking marriage. They have been together 28 years.

Vice President Gore introduces his wife as "the most important person in my life." On the campaign trail, reporters more than once glimpsed them snuggling on the bus.

While Tipper attended Boston College, Al was at Harvard. They marned after college in 1970. While Al served in Vietnam, Tipper protested the war. Gore's father, former U.S. Senator Albert Gore Sr., lost a heated re-election bid over his opposition to the Vietnam conflict.

Disillusioned with politics and distraught over what he had witnessed during his stint in Vietnam, Al Gore Jr. and his wife moved their family back to the small town of Carthage, about 40 miles outside of Nashville, Tenn. Here, he took a job as a reporter at The Tennessean newspaper, eventually entering Vanderbilt University's Divinity School before deciding to tackle politics himself. Tipper also worked at the newspaper as a parttime photographer--an avocation she rekindled with zeal during last summer's presidential campaign, snapping what some professionals call the most coveted inside shots of the entire campaign. During this time, she also earned a master's degree in psychology from George Peabody College in Nashville.

Tipper Gore's outside activities have never impinged on her most coveted role as a mother. She keeps a close watch over their four children: Karenna, 19; Kristen, 15; Sarah, 14; and Albert III, 10.

"If 'Leave It to Beaver' were still on television today, Beaver would be a latchkey kid and Eddie Haskell would be dealing drugs," she says. "It's not easy being a kid today."

During the campaign, she insisted her schedule allow return trips to Arlington or to Carthage every Friday night to spend the weekend with her children.

Tipper's protectiveness of her children led to her much-publicized rounding of the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985. That high-profile organization pushed the music industry to voluntarily place warning labels on records containing explicitly sexual or violent lyrics.

Tipper began the campaign after listening to Prince's Purple Rain album that she bought for her then 11-year-old daughter and being shocked by sexually explicit lyrics in the song "Darling Nikki." Her friends warned her that her stance on music labels might be "misinterpreted," says Natalie Dunning, a writer who has known the Gores since they all worked together at The Tennessean. Indeed, the music industry responded by complaining of censorship and government control. Recently, Tipper met with industry executives to "clear the air of misunderstandings of [her] efforts." Censorship was never the intent of her crusade against rock music lyrics. Rather the purpose of the PMRC was to keep parents aware of their children's environment.

Tipper is "... a natural activist," says Dunning. "If something affects her kids, she is not just going to sit around and talk about it. She gets involved and makes something happen. She really believes she can make a difference, and she does."

For the record, Tipper Gore is no stranger to rock music. She played the drums in an all-girl garage band called "The Wildcats" during high school.

"I got a set when I was 14," Mrs. Gore remembers, "and just started to play in the house to the stereo." Still a rock and jazz fan, Gore listens to Grateful Dead albums on occasion. As for the rest of the clan? "We have a wide range of music in our home from classical to rap."

At the heart of her various crusades is concern for today's children. In 1987, in her ongoing push for parental knowledge, she published a book titled Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society.

"A stable family is an ethic to work toward and gift to be valued," Tipper states. "Loyalty, solidarity, flexibility, and accountability are what makes a family work.

"Certainly that is what I try to portray to my children. It is important that they know what is expected of them, and that they be held accountable, whether it is walking the dogs or taking out the trash. There needs to be some responsibility," she says, quickly adding, "I'm also very flexible and very forgiving."

Tipper has raised her own children with structure, boundaries, and rules. When little, the kids went to their rooms for "time out" if tempers exploded or rules were broken. Now the Gores withdraw privileges as punishment.

"It works," she says. "And it's not done in anger. It's done to impress on them the expectations that we want them to honor. In a way, we are teaching them how to deal with their own emotions."

"The key to making a large family work, or any family, but certainly our family, is communication," Gore stresses. "We have family meetings once a week. We try to do it on Sunday so everybody can talk about the coming week and what's ahead, so we can all focus on it."

The close-knit family's darkest hour arrived in 1989. Leaving the opening-day Orioles game in Baltimore, son Albert was hit by a car.

Vice President Gore remembers looking down and seeing death in his young son's eyes that day. Amazingly, the critically injured little boy survived. But the accident and the slow healing process transformed their lives for the next year.

During the first three months, Tipper and Al Gore wearily alternated round-the-clock shifts at his side at John Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. The trauma, unfortunately, had just started.

Natalie Dunning recalls a visit she and her husband, Frank Sutherland, made to Albert's hospital room.

"He was immobilized," she remembers. "He was in a lot of pain, and was on medication. The room was crowded with all kinds of gifts. We gave him a book and, understandably, he was less than enthusiastic. Tipper thanked us, and then she turned and prompted him to say thank you, too. The thing that struck me was that I really admired her strength in not suspending the rules of polite behavior to a child she had almost lost. You want to give in and do everything for the child because of the trauma. For me, that was another indication of Tipper's maturity."

When Albert was well enough to return home, it was in a full-length body cast. The Gores transformed their dining room into a hospital room.

"We all pulled together," she recalls. "It made the family stronger. The support was there, and that was critical. We gave each of his sisters a role in his recovery. Albert had to be turned regularly each night during this period, and the children took turns staying up with him so AI and I could get some sleep. So many families in that situation don't get that kind of support."

Tipper's advice to other families who suffer tragedy--be it an injury, a death, a divorce, or whatever--is to reach out for help "from anywhere you can get it."

But the tragedy days are over now. Life has resumed a degree of normalcy. Today son Albert likes to rollerblade. Fitness-minded mom rollerblades alongside.

"When weather permits, I like to vary jogging with rollerblading or a long walk," Tipper says. "But more and more I am becoming a runner." Tipper, 44, runs anywhere from 15-45 minutes, six days a week. She thinks it's good to take a day off and rest. And, yes, this closely knit family even exercises together, whenever possible.

As second lady of the nation, Tipper Gore is committed to supporting programs that help families in need and promoting a greater understanding of mental illness. She also will continue her work to improve the plight of the homeless.

"I would like to be a voice for the children," she says.

The desire to make a difference in both her own family's and others' worlds dates back to that childhood pain.

"I felt a real empathy for other kids like myself," Tipper Gore reveals. "Early on I knew that I wanted to do something to help people."

And she has been doing just that ever since.
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Title Annotation:Al Gore
Author:McKnight, Gail
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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