Maureen McDonnell once accused the Executive Mansion chef of intentionally serving her spoiled food to make her sick for Christmas, the former first lady’s chief of staff testified.
“I remember getting a text message during the holidays having to do with the chef serving her bad shrimp and he was doing it intentionally to ruin her holidays,” Mary-Shea Sutherland said.
Sutherland relayed the incident under cross examination by Henry Asbill, a defense attorney for former governor Robert F. McDonnell.
Asbill was asking Sutherland about working conditions at the mansion, which she said were so strained that she met with the governor’s chief of staff, Martin Kent, once a month to discuss problems.
Sutherland, who stayed on the job about 20 months, said the first lady “was a delight” to work with on some days, but she also screamed at staff and made false accusations against them.
“It was almost two years of emotional stress,” she said. “It just became intolerable. It was yelling, accusations. Nothing was ever right.”
While she talked with Kent about those issues monthly, Sutherland said she had just two conversations with the governor about the first lady’s treatment of staff.
On one occasion, Sutherland said she had come over to the Patrick Henry Building to meet with Kent about the latest blow-up when Bob McDonnell spotted her in the hallway. The governor saw that she’d been crying and invited her into his office. He sat down with her, not at his desk, but in an area with a couch and chairs.
“He was genuinely concerned,” said Sutherland, adding that he also asked her to be patient with his wife because she had recently lost her father. “He asked me to try to understand what Maureen was going through.”
Sutherland said she replied, “I’ve lost both of my parents, and I maintained a full-time job and never treated people the way she was treating staff.”
Sutherland said she met with the governor at a later date, which was not specified, when she ultimately decided to quit. Asbill asked her if she was “fully candid” with Bob McDonnell about his wife’s behavior in that second meeting. Sutherland said she had not been.
“I made a decision to leave, and I wasn’t going to sit there with the governor of Virginia and enumerate bad behavior,” she said.