First Lady of Misunderstood speaks out on her state of mind


March 31, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Hilda Mae Snoops, the governor's friend, says she i Maryland's First Lady of Misunderstood.

"People say I'm unhappy," she declares.

They do?

"Yes," she says. "They say I need love."

They do?

"They do," she insists. "But that's not the case."

Even if it isn't, I love it when she talks this way. In fact, I love it when anybody semiconscious in the State House (sometimes it's so tough to tell) talks this way.

The governor and his lady friend are not like everybody else in politics. They've never learned how to hide their emotions. Whatever is bugging them, they let the immediate world know about it. Others qualify and equivocate. William Donald Schaefer mails a letter bomb.Others swallow their hurt. Hilda Mae Snoops threatens to redecorate again. How stunning to discover human hearts beating behind the official facade.

But in an age of instant mass communication and overkill, this is both their blessing and their curse. For years, Schaefer's charm was his oddness. Other politicians had long since learned to conduct themselves with ostentatious public seriousness. Schaefer wore funny hats and swam in a seal pool.

Other political first ladies were different from Hilda Mae Snoops. For one thing, they were married. For another, they suffered in silence.

"I hate to stir things up," Hilda Mae Snoops said the other day.

Oh, really?

When last heard, she was talking of redecorating her original redecoration of the governor's mansion, threatening to give away or sell off the rugs and chandeliers and even the new fountain she'd installed.

It was a spit in the eye of anybody who'd dared criticize her taste. But it was also merely the latest in a low-level buzz of controversy that's surrounded her for several years now, growing increasingly louder, regarding her relationship with Schaefer and his staff and her role as the first lady of the state.

"I've been around a long time," she said.

"I can take criticism. But I get upset over the talk about my private life. You know, the moral implications. Listen, I was raised in Victorian Baltimore. You can't get worse than that.

"I'm an old lady; I've got three kids and six grandchildren. I've lived by strict codes all my life. You can bang on me, but not on my children. And that's who's hurt by all these implications, all that crap that I need love and attention. That's just people's own dirty minds."

Do we need to translate? She and the governor, friends for a couple of decades, are unmarried companions. There are some who imagine it's anybody's business but the governor and his lady's.

It is not, except where it may affect government or politics. And here, we begin to get into delicate areas.

In the State House, there are some who complain of Mrs. Snoops steering the governor's political schedule, some who talk of friction between Mrs. Snoops and the governor's staff.

Some even say she won't allow some of the governor's staff inside the mansion.

"They have no reason to come in," Mrs. Snoops said. "There's 24-hour coverage on the (telephone.)"

So it's true?

"There's an old expression," Mrs. Snoops said. "It's called the Fifth Amendment."

But, pressed to go beyond refusal to comment, she quickly added, "His staff would do anything to discredit me. Why? They're not smart enough not to."

There are battles over the governor's time and turf that the public never sees.

Mrs. Snoops sees herself as Schaefer's oasis of calm in a difficult time.

The legislature looks at Schaefer and delivers an open sneer. The governor has been ridiculed for writing and visiting citizens who have criticized him. He's been vilified by the Eastern Shore for saying something in private that was quickly made public. Some have even questioned his sanity.

In large, Schaefer's response has been to stand firm. Mrs. Snoops is a mirror image of him, holding her ground, issuing challenges, talking


"There was a time," she said, "when he'd get upset. But he's a political figure. At the end of the day, I try not to dwell on what he's been having all day long. But I'm a nurse. I've seen so much. I know what people need.

"He has a social conscience. Some people have it and most of the legislators don't. So that affects him. But I know he hasn't had a nervous breakdown. I mean, consider the source. You have psychiatrists giving opinions who haven't even seen him. They're just trying to get business."

In fact, Schaefer's recent behavior is only a variation on a theme. He's always had his emotions unbuttoned, but people used to like it. When they stopped liking it, he became hurt and angry and began acting out.

Mrs. Snoops has caught some of the flak ricocheting around him. In a time of her own health problems -- which she says are behind her -- this has been their winter of discontent.

"The governor is so much his own man," she says. "He'll be all right."

Left unsaid by Hilda Mae Snoops is that she will, too.

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