WASHINGTON VTC — WASHINGTON -- In giving the commencement address at Boston College in 1982, then Vice President George Bush said it was an especially great day for him because he had a daughter in the graduating class.
It was news to most of the students there.
Just as it was news to the public affairs director of Maine's tourism office that the young woman who had started work there one morning in 1988 was the president's daughter. And news to the customers at Deering Ice Cream shop in Portland, Maine, that the woman coming in for lunch, dressed in a sweat suit and lugging one kid under one arm, another by her side, was anything more than just another mother, just another Mainer.
But now, Dorothy Bush LeBlond, the president's youngest child and only daughter, has begun to step out in official and social Washington -- her home in earlier years, and once again since August. And the shy, unassuming 31-year-old appears to have traded in the casual, anonymous sweat suit existence she embraced on the coast of Maine . . . for a piece of the action.
Just last week, Ms. LeBlond accompanied her father on his weeklong swing through South America, taking the place of Barbara Bush who'd been suffering from a sinus infection.
And she's accompanied her father, or more often both parents, at dozens of official functions since settling in Bethesda last summer -- with her two children, Sam, 6, and Nancy Ellis "Ellie," 4 -- after a quiet divorce from her husband, William H. LeBlond, last April.
Even on her own, Ms. LeBlond, who now works in the communications and development office of the National Rehabilitation Hospital here, is starting to make a grand sweep through Washington's social circuit.
In the past several months she's attended an exorbitantly priced dinner dance honoring Diana, Princess of Wales, helped organize an awards show at the Kennedy Center for the Rehabilitation Hospital and sat on the benefit committee for the gala opening of a posh French boutique in Fairfax, Va.
From the Junior League of Portland to Hermes of Paris.
"She was ready for a move," says Alex Heminway, a scheduler for Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher, of her longtime friend's decision to leave the small Portland suburb of Cape Elizabeth. "She did a lot of campaigning for her father. She learned to be on the road, learned to be independent. She was really ready for something a little more challenging, really ready for a bigger city."
Last August, Ms. LeBlond, called Doro by her friends, was welcomed to the city with several private bashes held in her honor. "People are making an effort to get her met," says Ms. Heminway, who invited about 70 people to one such welcoming party.
But even given her new, more social profile, Ms. LeBlond, who looks a lot like her mother with her plainly pretty features and preppie, no-frills style, is trying to stay as much in the shadows of the news as possible. She declined to be interviewed for this article because, explains Anna Perez, Mrs. Bush's press secretary, "She wants to lead a real life. She wants to lead a normal life."
To a certain extent, she's always searched out a nest of normalcy, even amid a life of privilege and power, chauffeurs and chefs, prep schools and summer homes. While living in the grand suite of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York as a child, when her father was ambassador to the United Nations, young Doro befriended the maids and elevator operators, and hoped no one would see her being dropped off at the U.N. school in a big black limousine.
It was far too flashy for her.
"She wasn't a spark plug," says Alice DeLana, one of Ms. LeBlond's English teachers at Miss Porter's prep school in Farmington, Conn., which she attended while her father was ambassador to China.
Later at Boston College, where she majored in sociology, professor Paul Gray recalls her as a "competent" student, but with no great scholastic or professional ambitions. "My impression was she was eager to be married and have a family of her own."
Friends and colleagues still describe Ms. LeBlond as a shy, sweet, sensitive woman with a small, quiet voice and little to none of the Bush ambition and drive.
"Incredibly naive," says one observer. "I was thunderstruck that a woman growing up in a family like that could be, at her age, so naive."
She's confessed to being fiercely devoted to her parents, and fiercely sheltered by them -- especially by her father -- perhaps because the Bushes lost their second child and only other daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia at age 4.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Bush often referred to Dorothy, with obvious affection, as the little girl who always had the screen door slammed in her face chasing after her four older brothers. "You can sense the dynamic between them is very close, loving and protective," says one friend, "and it goes both ways."