Over the years, Gingrich himself has declined to comment on the story’s details, usually relying on some variation of the comment he made to the New York Times this year: “There are things in my life I’m not proud of, and there are things in my life I’m very proud of.” He has acknowledged having extramarital affairs in the past, however.
Although the thrust of the story about his first divorce is not in dispute — Gingrich’s first wife, Jackie Battley, has said previously that the couple discussed their divorce while she was in the hospital in 1980 — other aspects of it appear to have been distorted through constant retelling.
Most significant, Battley wasn’t dying at the time of the hospital visit; she is alive today. Nor was the divorce discussion in the hospital “a surprise” to Battley, as many accounts have contended. Battley, not Gingrich, had requested a divorce months earlier, according to Jackie Gingrich Cushman, the couple’s second daughter. Further, Gingrich did not serve his wife with divorce papers on the day of his visit (unlike a subpoena, divorce papers aren’t typically “served”).
Gingrich’s marriage to Battley had been troubled for many years before it dissolved 31 years ago, both parties have said. Battley, who is seven years older than Gingrich, had been Gingrich’s high school math teacher in Columbus, Ga. They began dating after he graduated and were married in 1962, when Gingrich was 19 and a freshman at Emory University in Atlanta.
In time, the marriage grew contentious, and the couple spent several years in counseling. In spring 1980, Gingrich left her, Battley told The Washington Post in 1985. Around this time, the couple gathered their children, then ages 16 and 13, around the kitchen table at their home in Fairfax County and told them that they intended to divorce, Cushman wrote in a syndicated column in May (none of the family members nor Gingrich would comment for this article).
On his campaign Web site, Gingrich calls the hospital story “a vicious lie. . . . It is completely false.” However, this contradicts comments made repeatedly by Battley in two interviews after their divorce.
The hospital visit took place that summer, several months into their separation. Battley, who was undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, had had two prior surgeries, and Gingrich’s visit occurred a day after a third operation at Emory University Hospital, in which doctors removed a benign tumor, according to Cushman.