A Union of Families, Politics and Society
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
The nation's first family tree is about to gain a new branch. The future in-laws, it turns out, are not unlike the Bushes.
Henry Hager, 29, who was engaged to Jenna Bush, 25, in August, hails from a world of good breeding and foregone conclusions. His parents, who live in the West End of Richmond, are staples of their society. Like the Bushes, with their prominent forebears and their best schools, the Hagers are a Good Family, in the old sense of the phrase.
So much about the Hager family reminds you of how things used to be.
Like many old cities, Richmond has changed -- and it hasn't. Many of the trappings of the Hagers' lives pay homage to the way Richmond once was. Henry's parents, John and Maggie, are regulars on the cocktail party circuit and members of the Country Club of Virginia near their house. Margaret Chase Hager, 66, the product of prep schools and Richmond's debutante culture, was raised by an almost mythic woman who -- as one of Henry Hager's first cousins remembers it -- rode sidesaddle on a white horse she called Lady Godiva, and never wore a pair of pants in her life.
(Somehow, Good Families always have good legends.)
John, 71, formerly Virginia's lieutenant governor, has for decades been part of a small group of Republican-leaning business leaders in Richmond who recruit and fund local and state politicians. Statewide, he is the ubiquitous John Hager, known for attending the smallest of gatherings on the chicken dinner circuit (and always writing thank-yous).
Recently he was elected chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, a position in which his networking and fundraising talents will no doubt come in handy.
"John knows where the money is," says Mike Salster, Hager's communications director during his 1997 run for lieutenant governor.
Social anthropologists say that in matters of love, like meets like. Whatever frisson is sparked, there are also subtle evaluations of shoes and manners, of accent and ambition -- and these things become part of the calculus by which human beings can guess at a future together.
In the case of Jenna and Henry, there is much like in their love. They are both acquainted with the power of family and of politics. In addition to working on his father's campaigns, Henry has worked for Karl Rove and on President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign.
Henry's immediate family declined to be interviewed for this article, citing the young couple's desire for privacy. During her book tour, which began last week, Jenna has said she doesn't yet know when and where her wedding will take place. She has spoken a little about her "open-minded" and "outdoorsy" fiance, who took her on a cold, early-morning hike up Maine's Cadillac Mountain and asked her to marry him as the sun broke over the horizon.
He proposed with his great-grandmother's ring, which he had reset.