The good-looking blond woman was sitting in a restaurant in New Hampshire the other day when a waiter approached and said, "Excuse me, Ma'am, are you Dudley Dudley?" "Yes," she replied. "Well, I've wanted to meet you for a long time," said the waiter. "My name in Gordon Gordon."
So Dudley Dudley belongs to a small band of people distinguished by the same first and last names -- like waiter Gordon Gordon and Catch-22's Major Major.
In the world Dudley Dudley now inhabits -- politics -- name identity is as important as it is for rock stars, and so the unusual Dudley W. Dudley is a decided plus. Still, as friend and author Kevin Cash says of the Dudley of 23 years ago, "A girl named Dudley Webster who falls in love with a guy named Thomas Dudley has a hell of a lot of guts." Dudley says marrying another Dudley was "in the stars." Her husband says "it was a natural."
It seemed like not only guts but pure folly last winter when Dudley and her friend and former fellow state legislator Joanne Simons started the New Hampshire draft-Kennedy write-in for a man they had never even met. Now, as each day moves Kennedy closer to running, Dudley's phone never stops ringing and the press is probing to find out about the woman behind the strange name who is being viewed as one of politics' most improbable kingmakers.
The other day, as she stood in a picnic grove in the woods of New Hampshire, 200 members of the American and foreign press listened as Dudley said the only person who could beat the Republicans was Ted Kennedy. Sitting close by and staring impassively as she spoke was the man who had brought that traveling circus of media and had come 3,000 miles to try to convince everyone that he could do just that -- California Gov. Jerry Brown.
So who is this Dudley Dudley, anyway? At 43 she has chic, blond good looks and a patrician background. A "lady," the men in politics call her, but a lady with a quick sense of humor who is a fan of Hunter Thompson. I don't think you can make much of my reading habits," she says wryly. "The last book I read was 'The Last Convertible.'"
Dudley heats her nine-room, three bath cape Cod home in Durham with only wood and paper -- and single handedly battled Aristotle Onassis in 1975 when he "planned to put the world's largest oil refinery in my town." Dudley had one of her many knockdown fights with conservative Gov. Meldrim Thomson over the oil refinery and he threw her out of his office. Dudley then went door to door, and won in a town meeting when the townfolk rose up in opposition to kill the Onassis oil venture.
Her biggest enemy is William Loeb, the irascible, right-wing publisher of the Manchester Union Leader. This has given her considerable cachet, for in many political circles, when you are hated by Loeb, you can't be half bad. It's got to kill Loeb that he helped make Dudley, friends say. Out in rural New Hampshire, where people have never met her and a shopping trip to Manchester is an annual adventure, Dudley is known as Deadly Dudley or Dum-Dum Dudley -- two of Loeb's more charming monikers for her.
Dun-Dum stems for her sponsorship of a bill prohibiting police from using hollow-point, or dum-dum bullets. "They are so incredibly deadly that they are prohibited from use in wars by the Geneva Convention," Dudley says, still with a sense of outrage. The bill went down to "glorious defeat." As a champion of liberal causes she has learned a lot about defeat, glorious or otherwise. Dudley is the survivor of three straight secondplace New Hampshire presidential primaries as a backer of Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern and Mo Udall.
There was no slogging through political science or ward politics in Dudley's background. Until the 1960s, her major involvement was stuffing envelopes for FDR as a child. As the wife of a successful lawyer Dudley was happily raising two daughters -- Morgan, 19; Bekki, 16 -- and had known a comfortable life. Her father was professor of English at the University of New Hampshire and her mother, Polly Webster, wrote a daily column in The Boston Globe during World War II and a book titled "How to Make Money at Home." Dudley's education hardly prepared her for politics -- she was an art-education major. "It never occurred to me to do anything but get married and have children."
Dudley and her husband met while she was teaching swimming at the Lake Sunapee Yacht Club, and he was tending bar and going to law school. They are, in fact, very vaguely related. She is a direct descendant of Daniel Webster and Joseph Dudley, an official of New England in 1686. Her husband is a direct descendant of Thomas Dudley, governor of New England a few years before that.
Politics did not enter her life until the 1960s civil-right battles. "My original projects in retrospect look terribly patronizing, but at least the intentions were good. We brought kids from Roxbury to New Hampshire for a couple of weeks," she says with a tinge of embarrassment. The Vietnam War galvanized her to hand out buttons and bumper stickers for McCarthy and four years later to become a McGovern delegate. Then it was politics on her own. Dudley ran for the state Legislature, became the first Democrat to win from her district and was reelected two years later. She gained more power when she became one of five elected to the Governor's Council, the only woman to hold the second-highest Democratic office in the state. Her move onto the Council came in Gov. Thomson's last term -- "luckily," she says.
Dudley's partner in the draft-Kennedy New Hampshire movement, Joanne Simons, is handicapped by her conventional name and because she feels it is inappropriate to be quoted on her political activities since she still works for a nonprofit charitable organizations. Simons, 38, a former teacher who grew up in Brooklyn, quips, in reference to Dudley's New England lineage, that she is "the direct descendant of Baron Ginsburg of Russia." As Democratic state chairman, Simons led the fight to defeat longtime nemesis Meldrim Thomson and helped get Gov. Hugh Gallen elected in 1978.
A political junkie who resigned in November as state chairman, Simons was back in January with the draft-Kennedy quest. "My husband didn't think I'd last that long," she says. Her husband, Alan Simons, a teacher, is apolitical.
For many months the draft-Kennedy movement was strictly exploratory and "depended entirely on Carter's condition -- whether he could find a solution to the energy or economy or inflation problems," says Dudley. "If he could, we would have stopped our effort." But Carter, says Dudley, "reminds me of that scene in 'The Wizard of Oz' when Dorothy encounters the wizard and Dorothy tells him he's a bad man and the wizard says 'no, I'm a very good man -- it's just that I am a very bad wizard.' "
Dudley says she has never heard from anyone in the Kennedy camp or from Kennedy, and has only once shared a podium with him. She laughs. "Maybe they don't know we're doing this." Even before Kennedy's latest encouraging statements, Dudley drew interest from people at meetings and "without exception all worked for Jimmy Carter last time. Some I have not seen active since the '60s." They plan a very traditional grass-roots New Hampshire campaign. "All our TV advertising efforts have been geared toward teaching people how to write-in on the ballot. Maybe that will have to be drastically changed now."
Asked how her husband stands all her political activities, Dudley says, "Barely. It's wonderful. Coming home is a real opportunity for me to let my hair down. He's not the slightest bit impressed with the list of people I talk to during the course of a day and it brings me down to earth."
Her life has been pleasant, parochial, says Dudley -- sailing, doing needlepoint, enjoying her children and friends, saving $1200 a year with her wood-burning stoves. But she sees the possibility of moving on. If Kennedy does enter and win we will not have heard the last of that crazy name Dudley W. Dudley. Would she consider a job in a Kennedy Washington? "Well, I don't have anybody at home now. The children are off at school. It would be fun."
Her name, as she says, has come to be a great asset, and she with a slight giggle throws out a challenge to Bill Murray and Co. as she says, "When it shows up on 'Saturday Night Live' I'll change it."