A Woman Of Conviction

Kenneth Lay and his wife face reporters after guilty verdicts were returned against him last month in Houston for his role in Enron's downfall.
Kenneth Lay and his wife face reporters after guilty verdicts were returned against him last month in Houston for his role in Enron's downfall. (By Pat Sullivan -- Associated Press)
By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 10, 2006

Silence doesn't suit her.

Retreat isn't the natural inclination of a woman who went from secretary to socialite, who once overnighted as a guest in the White House and flitted among her seven homes aboard private jets with the mogul husband she still calls Kenny Boy.

But for Linda Lay, these are days of curtains-drawn seclusion, a summer of waiting for her husband to be sentenced. Since Kenneth Lay's fraud conviction last month in Houston, the notoriously ostentatious oil couple has been hiding out near Aspen, Colo., renting where they once owned four separate properties, praying where they once partied.

Trying to set aside, in the words of a longtime family friend, "the very deep pall that hangs over them. It's almost like a death."

In the course of Kenneth Lay's four-month trial in Texas, Linda appeared walking hand-in-hand with her husband to the courthouse, writing biblical passages on a yellow legal pad, shaking her honey-blond hair and muttering in disagreement with damaging testimony.

And, finally, clutching a sleeve and pressing her face into Ken's shoulder as she heard a series of guilty verdicts that could send him to prison for the rest of his life.

In their 24 years together, Linda has been an omnipresent sidekick, jetting with her husband from Houston and Paris to India and beyond when he ruled the energy sector and ran Enron Corp. But she also stood by her man after the company was brought low by scandal -- and her husband became a caricature of greed. She listened impassively as their social triumphs were rendered into damning testimony. In the front row she sat, never missing a day, never wearing black, always positioned so her husband could swivel just slightly in his chair at the defense table to catch her eye for a supportive glance or reassuring smile. She joked lightly with a media that scrutinized her down to the jewels in her wristwatch.

Juror Dana Fernandez, a clerk in the Harris County criminal courts for more than two decades, says panel members noticed early on that Lay's daughter and wife were showing up every day of the trial, and came to expect the smiles they routinely offered as jurors entered the courtroom.

For nearly a generation, the Lay family has been inextricably linked to Enron, first as a company where both husband and wife collected paychecks, and then as their blended family of five children and a dozen grandchildren became the preeminent beneficiaries of Enron's largesse. Ken collected $220 million in cash and stock during Enron's last three years; exactly what's left, and where it is, remains a subject of debate and litigation. The government is expected to move to seize assets sometime later this year.

Linda Lay is a second wife: her hair always perfectly in place, her figure trim at 61, her St. John knit outfits reflecting wealth in muted hues. But she is far from an adornment, as she is sometimes characterized in the media coverage of Enron's demise.

Friends say Linda has a mind of her own and does not hesitate to share her views when she thinks it will benefit her husband. She sometimes bristled when she disagreed with opinions voiced during pretrial strategy sessions, put her foot down in favor of attending church and family events during the course of the trial rather than pulling all-nighters with defense lawyers, and typed and edited a speech her husband gave blasting the prosecution last December.

"She's really Ken's rock," says friend Terry Giles. "She's nice and as sweet and as wonderful as you'd hope she'd be, but she's tough. . . . A lot of folks may have underestimated Linda."

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