She looks great. Calmer than when she was Maryland's first lady, before the separation, the divorce and her husband's very public remarriage to a much younger woman. She seems more centered, more in control of her life.

And Frances Anne Glendening, who turns 52 on Wednesday, said that's exactly how she feels. The last few years have been rocky, but Francie, as friends call her, is doing fine.

"You never know what life has in store for you," Glendening said in an interview at her Hyattsville home. "I have no regrets."

When Parris N. Glendening became governor eight years ago, she was clearly part of the power behind the throne. The daughter of an influential Maryland political family, she was a key adviser to his 1994 gubernatorial campaign. She headed his transition into the governor's mansion. And when he was inaugurated in January 1995, he stopped the proceedings for a song he dedicated to her: "[You Are] the Wind Beneath My Wings."

It all fell apart after his 1998 reelection. Barred by law from seeking a third term, friends say the governor faced the end of a 30-year political career with no clear idea what to do next. Some call it a mid-life crisis. Whatever it was, it ended their marriage.

He moved into the governor's mansion full-time during the summer of 2000, leaving Frances in the comfortable home on a leafy street near the University of Maryland where they raised a son. The divorce became final two days before their 25th wedding anniversary. Two months later, he married Jennifer E. Crawford, a 35-year-old senior aide who gave birth to a daughter last August.

Through it all, Frances Glendening kept her silence. She refused requests for interviews. There were no wifely recriminations, and she is determined that there will be none now.

Indeed, during a four-hour interview, she had only kind things to say about her former husband. She admitted that she has been baffled by his abandonment of some longtime friends, such as his former chief of staff Major Riddick, who had been counting on the governor to support his campaign for Prince George's county executive.

"I have no idea. I don't get it," she said sadly, when asked why the governor failed to endorse Riddick's candidacy. "Major was and is incredibly talented and remarkably giving of himself, like so many talented, dedicated people who helped us so much."

Instead, Frances Glendening has rebuilt her life around her son, Raymond, 23, and her job at the Federal Elections Commission, where she has worked as a legal adviser to the commissioner for nearly 18 years.

She also has finished a project dear to her heart, "Women of Achievement in Maryland History," a book that recounts the lives of more than 350 remarkable Maryland women, which was published in October.

"It was an initiative I took on as first lady, and I wanted to finish it in the eight years," she said. She can't explain why exactly. But she clearly has the sense that her former husband's return to private life last month also marked the close of an important chapter in her own life.

"It's a time for me to reflect on exactly how and where I want to be involved in the future," she said.

For now, her future involves a few civic projects tied to her passion for the arts, but nothing elaborate. It also involves a new beau, who is a local judge and "a very nice man who likes the arts and theater."

"I don't feel sad at all," she said. "I have a great sense of having been part of something."