At their 25th reunion last summer, members of Allegany High School Class of 1969 realized that Frances Hughes Glendening was Francie no more. The chubby girl who starved herself to make the school drill team had grown so thin, cut her hair so short that some of her old buddies hardly knew her.
To commemorate the disappearance of pudgy young Francie Anne, the Class of 1969 voted Frances Hughes Glendening "Most Changed Woman." But the changes were mostly on the surface.
Mrs. Glendening, 43, has dropped many pounds but still speaks her mind, still drives herself like someone pursuing the shadow of her own perfection, still turns a cheerful face to the world.
She appeared at the reunion with her husband, Parris Nelson Glendening, the 52-year-old Prince George's County Executive and gubernatorial candidate who was soon to embark on the political fight of his life in the general election. The political daughter had become a political spouse, still stomping the campaign trenches with the main man in her life.
As a girl she had walked beside her father, the former state delegate and senator George R. Hughes Jr., when he waged his campaign for Congress in 1970 and lost by fewer than 4,000 votes.
Some people in town figured they'd see Mr. Hughes -- no relation to former Gov. Harry R. Hughes -- move into the governor's mansion one day. Instead, he vanished from elective politics and later slipped into a manic-depressive illness from which he never recovered.
Late on the night of Oct. 16, 1978, he was found dead of asphyxiation at the wheel of his car in the closed garage of the family home in Cumberland. The 53-year-old lawyer and former tax court judge left no suicide note. He left behind a wife, four daughters and a son.
On a winter day nine years later, Mrs. Glendening's 17-year-old brother, Raymond, died of an overdose of morphine. Almost eight months later her mother, Patricia F. Hughes, succumbed at 57 to the bone marrow cancer she had been fighting for seven years.
Mrs. Glendening's response to so much loss has been to "be very vigilant with the family, and even close personal friends. Always try to be the one who really listens. . . . My family is my highest priority. You know my career is important to me. But still. There's nothing, there's no office, there's no amount of money that is equal to that."
Her career takes a new turn next month when she becomes Maryland's first lady -- and by all accounts, the new governor's top political adviser.
It's been that way long before the name Hillary conjured venom on the talk shows. The governor-elect says he always has sought his wife's counsel and will continue to do so.
That was clear last month when Mr. Glendening appeared before a crowd of reporters and television cameras to announce the formation of his transition team. His lieutenant governor-elect, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, sat on a bench off to the side. Standing with him at the podium was Mrs. Glendening, co-chair of the transition.
Since then, the name "Hillary Glendening" has been tossed around on the talk shows and in letters to the editor. Mrs. Glendening says the comparison to Mrs. Clinton is way off.
"I just want to be myself," she says in an interview at campaign headquarters in College Park. "And that's what I'm going to continue to be. . . . I do what works best for me. And Parris and I do what works best for us as a couple, and as a family."
Joel Rozner, an Annapolis lobbyist and former Glendening chief of staff in Prince George's County, says that in the operation of county government, "Her hand, her shadow wasn't there." A parallel with Hillary Rodham Clinton, he says, "doesn't exist."
Since Mr. Glendening was first elected Prince George's County Executive in 1982, his wife has helped manage the passage to each new administration. Once the new term begins, however, her habit has been to back away, let her husband do his job and return to her own work as a $90,000-a-year policy adviser at the Federal Elections Commission. She says she'll do the same this time, although no one has any doubt about her influence on the governor-elect, however informally she exerts it.
"If you're looking for someone to label his No. 1 adviser, I think it would be Francie," says Lance Billingsley, a Prince George's County lawyer who has known Mr. Glendening about 20 years.
Mr. Glendening has developed a reputation for some of the most disciplined, best-organized political campaigns Maryland has known. Much of the credit for that goes to his wife, say Mr. Billingsley and Mr. Rozner.
"She is not sitting at the head of the table of our core group because she's the candidate's wife, but because she belongs there," says Mr. Rozner, a member of the transition team.
She brings, says Mr. Billingsley, "a wealth of knowledge and experience in Maryland politics."
A life of politics