A chat with our most famous female resident
We put politics aside to discuss more important matters, like favorite local restaurants, favorite pastimes, and yes, life with Bill.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is running late, and I’m trying to find her. We’re supposed to sit down together for an interview.
“See where all those people are going,” a hospital receptionist at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla tells me. “Follow them; you’re bound to catch up with her.”
A crowd of men and women are near sprinting down the hospital halls. I join them. We make our way through winding corridors, turn this way, then that way, when suddenly our heart-pumping pace slows down to a near crawl. From the back of the line, I can make out a beige-outfitted, blonde-haired woman strolling down the hall and chatting amiably with two hospital administrators.
It may not be a screen idol or rock star who’s come today to visit Westchester’s biggest and, until recently, most troubled medical center, but you wouldn’t know it from the adoring men and women, some in blue scrubs, others in white coats, who are lined against the walls just to catch a glimpse of their boldfaced-name visitor.
“Wow, she looks good,” I overhear a nurse say. “I wonder where she gets her hair done,” another whispers.
I’m wondering if she will actually fit me in.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, her hair indeed looking good with lovely streaks of dark and light shades of blonde, is being led by Hospital Board Chairman Richard Berman into the hospital’s Cerebrovascular Center, a treatment center for stroke and other brain disorders—at least a half hour after she was scheduled to address the staff and then meet with me. But you certainly wouldn’t guess from looking at her that she is running late. She oh-so-patiently listens—a smile frozen on her expertly made-up face, a face lightly marked with appropriate age lines (no cosmetic surgery, if you ask me)—as the head of the Cerebrovascular Center, Dr. Michael Tenner, proudly explains the benefits of the hospital’s new 3-D advanced system, one of two in the state, which allows doctors to see teeny vessels in images of a patient’s grey matter. As Dr. Tenner explains how the equipment allows physicians to treat more diseases with fewer complications, a select few doctors, hospital officials, and I stand shoulder to shoulder, watching her. We stare and stare, studying the 59-year-old Westchester resident, who, in two years, many believe, will make a bid for the nation’s top job. (If Senator Clinton succeeds—and today, like every other day, she will not discuss whether she even intends to run—she will score a first: she will become the first woman president. She also will be the first First Lady to return to the White House, not as a president’s spouse, but as the President.)
Though precious time is ticking away, the former First Lady seems in no rush to leave the Cerebrovascular Center. Her staff, however, certainly is. Glance at them, in fact, and you might think they’ve just learned how to tell time or maybe—who knows?—they all have brand new watches. Why else would they check them so often?
Now, we (chosen few) gazers sit in the hospital conference center (we were escorted here while Clinton and some VIPs were taken elsewhere). The center is filled to capacity with physicians, hospital employees, nurses, and a slew of journalists. We are all waiting for her. Now it is I who is checking my watch often. I was supposed to get an interview a good hour ago.
Curious, I look in the corridors for her‚ and before long, I discover what is keeping her. There she is, posing for photographs with strangers. “Yes, I’d love to,” I hear her say to a couple of hospital attendants as she, her arms around each, smiles for the camera.
When Senator Clinton finally takes the podium, the crowd, it seems, couldn’t be more pleased: what she has to say they want to hear. Like: how wonderful it is that a bill recently was signed by Governor Pataki that gives the hospital $75 million over the next three years; how terribly important the hospital and its many special units (its liver transplant and burn units, for example) are to Westchester, indeed, to the entire Hudson Valley region (she notes that her husband first came to WMC when he had severe chest pains a little over two years ago which later led to heart bypass surgery); and how crucial it is that every American have “quality, affordable health care.”
All stand and applaud. She shakes many hands—including (and finally) mine. An aide whispers to me, “Okay, but make it quick.”
Hillary Clinton is in a small room, sitting across a table from me, smiling and no longer talking about burn units, universal healthcare, or the present administration’s distaste for that sort of thing, but instead Westchester, her favorite pastimes and favorite local restaurants, and yes, her marriage.
“My marriage is,” she assures me, “so ordinary in so many ways”—ordinary, she allows, for such a heavily commuting couple, one of whom lives in DC during the week and the other of whom travels to far-flung places a lot. “Bill almost always brings me something from his travels,” she says. Among his most recent purchases were an old Ethiopian cross and an eight-foot-tall wooden giraffe. “I didn’t know what to do with it,” she admits, laughing. “I had it varnished”—and now, she reports, the giraffe stands in their backyard.
Although the couple has a small home in DC, it is their 1880s farmhouse in Chappaqua (a fixer-upper they bought seven years ago) that, the Senator says, she and Bill consider home. “It is a refuge for Bill and me.” They try, she says, to be home at least one, if not two, weekend days.
And do what? “Ordinary stuff.” Like: shopping “downtown”; gardening “though we’re not really green thumb-y”; and reading. “Every square inch of the house that could take a book case has”—and the book shelves frequently are replenished with tomes bought at Second Story Book Shop in Chappaqua. “I love literature by women,” she says. “I read for pleasure.”
The Clintons love to go to the movies “all the time.” And (take solace, dear reader) sometimes even they, Mr. and Mrs. Famous, get shut out. “We went to see Little Miss Sunshine at Jacob Burns the other week and got shut out,” she reports. They ended up going to Bedford, where they succeeded in seeing Boynton Beach Club. “It was funny,” she says.
The couple also enjoys taking long walks, often at the Rockefeller State Park Preserve (“Bill walks more than I, especially since his heart surgery”), and to dine out. “We go over to the restaurants by the river and in nearby towns. I love Crabtree’s.” In fact, it seems she loves just about everything. Smiling broadly, she says, “I have work that I love, family and friends that I love. I get joy out of life.” Asked to describe herself, the Senator lists “hard-working, fun, adventurous, compassionate, and passionate.” Really? Is she really like this? Is she really this nice, this happy, this unassuming in private too?
“Except for wearing my sweats, the person that I am in private is the same person I am in public.”
And that person is running very, very late.
“Last question,” her aide says.
Actually, there were at least three more questions, making Hillary Rodham Clinton even more late.