By Libby Copeland and Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 13, 2008
She is known as the polished one, the poised one -- a Harvard-educated lawyer and an amateur painter, a prolific letter writer who gives homemade jam to friends at Christmastime.
Silda Wall Spitzer -- whose husband resigned as New York governor yesterday after being implicated in a prostitution scandal -- has a rare elegance, according to a longtime friend.
"If there was one word to describe her, I would say she's a lady," says Jan Constantine, whose husband, Lloyd, serves as an adviser to Eliot Spitzer. "There aren't a lot of people like that left around."
When she was a child, Silda Spitzer has said, she was a tomboy with dreams of being a professional football player. Her name is a variation of Serilda, which means "Teutonic war goddess." If there's little of the tomboyishness these days to the soon-to-be-former first lady of New York, she nevertheless projects strength and steadiness in public appearances. You could see it yesterday during her husband's news conference -- the way she lifted her eyes and looked evenly at the cameras, as if to say, I will not be undone.
According to those who've known her, Spitzer, 50, built a legal career and a charity from the ground up with a lot of hard work and long hours. Maggie Jones, the executive director of Children for Children, once told the Albany Times Union that Silda Spitzer would do anything to help the organization she founded in 1996, including picking up trash and moving boxes.
"She's always doing things behind the scenes," says one friend who is familiar with Spitzer's work with Children for Children, which is devoted to teaching kids the values of volunteerism and community service. "After events, she always stays after and helps people clean up. Some people do that to be kind of showy, but not her. She'll be there until late hours of the night working with other volunteers, always one of the last people to leave." (Spitzer has said she formed the nonprofit after being exposed to Manhattan's lavish children's birthday party scene.)
Silda Spitzer is often described as gentler and more gracious than her husband, who once reportedly called himself a "steamroller" during a heated conversation with a member of the state legislature. She is the eldest of three children, raised in Concord, N.C. Her father was a hospital administrator. She attended a Baptist women's college in Raleigh, N.C.
Silda and Eliot were classmates at Harvard Law. They met in 1984, when they wound up in the same shared house with friends during a ski weekend in Vermont. She was beautiful and smart, and one of Eliot Spitzer's friends recalled in a 2006 interview with the New York Observer that he told Eliot he didn't stand a chance.
They married in 1987. (She had been briefly married before.) Silda Wall -- as she was known for most of her professional life -- worked for the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and then as counsel to Chase Manhattan Bank until 1994, when she left the corporate world.
"I'd felt kind of proud that I was making more money than Eliot," Spitzer told the New York Times in 2006, recalling how she pulled all-nighters during her years as a practicing attorney. "He had a lot of time in public-sector jobs during that period."
In 1994, Spitzer gave birth to their third daughter; around the same time, her husband announced he'd be running for state attorney general, as she recalled in the interview with the Observer. She had not expected or planned for the life of a political spouse.
In profiles, Spitzer is depicted as reserved, unfailingly polite and tethered to her BlackBerry. She is a painter, and one of her pastoral scenes briefly hung in a museum in Columbia County, N.Y., where the Spitzers keep a vacation home.
Jan Constantine says that every summer, Spitzer and her daughters buy or gather fruit near their vacation home and make jam with it, which they preserve and give to friends.
"This year it was cherry; last year it was blueberry," says Constantine, who describes Spitzer as "incredibly smart and warm and generous."
In a video of a tour she gave to Domino magazine about her efforts to "green" the governor's mansion in Albany, Spitzer seems friendly and chipper, talking about the possibility of a "carbon-neutral future." She talks about having installed compact fluorescent bulbs in all the lamps, and leads a videographer on a tour of the kitchen and the greenhouse, where the staff grows organic food to serve during meals.
For now, many of Silda Spitzer's friends have closed ranks, declining to comment out of respect for the couple's privacy. They express sadness for what's happened.
"She's not the type of person to crawl into a hole," says the friend familiar with her charity work. "A lot of times when people have something happen, you can really tell who your friends are, and maybe that will be true for him. But she'll have no shortage of people wanting to be there for her."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.