Funeral this past winter, Virginia Kelley was...

AT HER

May 12, 1994

AT HER funeral this past winter, Virginia Kelley was called "an American original," but her true claim to fame is her membership in an elite group: mothers of presidents.

Mrs. Kelley's memoirs, "Leading with My Heart," published by Simon & Schuster, reveal an exuberant woman whose indomitable spirit may have been her greatest legacy to President Clinton.

"Truth is," she says, "I like bright colors and I like people to notice me. In fact, I hate for them not to notice me. I think Bill and Roger [her younger son] and I are all alike in that way: when we walk into a room, we want to win that room over. Some would even say we need to win that room over, and maybe that's true. And maybe that makes us vulnerable to other people. Roger says the three of us, if there are 100 people in a room and 99 of them love us and one doesn't, we'll spend all night trying to figure out why that one hasn't been enlightened."

Even so, her description of her days at the races shows she didn't always welcome distractions:

"Racing creates as many strange bedfellows as politics does. For years, my Oaklawn [race track] buddies were Dixie Seba and Joe Crain, the one-time Hot Springs chief of police. . . . We were a sight. Here's Dixie -- tall, reserved, as refined as the day is long; me -- well, you know what that's like; and Joe -- a scrappy little ex-boxer from the New York Bronx, with forearms the size of hams. We would meet every day and sit in Dixie's box, and whenever anybody else would try to come sit with us, I'm afraid we were less than gracious.

"When we three got to the track, we were there for serious business -- studying the racing form and figuring out our bets for the afternoon. At least Dixie and I were; Joe never seemed to get the hang of handicapping, so he served as our bouncer. When people would drop by wanting to talk, drink, eat, bet too much, give or get tips, or any number of other activities that disturbed our concentration, Joe would move them along as politely as possible. It was a great triumvirate."

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