Former first lady steps out

Glendening honored for women's advocacy at Riddick fund-raiser

March 17, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

GREENBELT - In her first major public appearance since her divorce from the governor, Frances Hughes Glendening joined about 1,000 other women yesterday at a campaign breakfast for Major F. Riddick Jr., a clear sign that the former first lady has no intention of shrinking from public life.

"It's very nice - a lot of people are asking me to be involved in various things," said Glendening, who was presented with an award for her advocacy on behalf of women. "I'm kind of taking it gradually, figuring out what I want to do."

The breakfast, billed as "1000 Women for Major Riddick" and held in an enormous ballroom, was a fund-raiser for Riddick, Gov. Parris N. Glendening's chief of staff until he stepped down in October to run for Prince George's county executive.

Riddick, who also worked for Glendening when the governor held the county's highest office, has known Mrs. Glendening for 24 years and considers her a good friend.

Asked if honoring her publicly was awkward in light of his relationship with the governor, Riddick said he informed his former boss he was planning to do it.

"They were a team, but they are also individuals in their own right," he said. "You can't take that away from her."

Glendening, who lives in College Park, appeared at ease yesterday as she hugged old friends and greeted well-wishers.

She laughed and waved her arms as Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the 18th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church gave a speech about her own mother's advice - which included not crying over spilled milk. "The divorce is over!" McKenzie shouted, giving one example of a common source of regret. "He gone! She gone! It's over! Move on!"

The Glendenings divorced in November, after being separated more than a year. In January, the governor married his former aide, Jennifer E. Crawford, and the couple is expecting a child.

Even during their estrangement, the former first lady hewed to a packed public schedule that included heading the National Governors Association's Spouses Leadership Committee.

But she has kept a fairly low profile since the divorce, and has declined to talk to reporters about her private life.

Yesterday, Glendening said she was still participating in local women's groups and other volunteer projects. "Of course, I plan to continue being active for the things I really care about," which are women's issues, mental health and the arts, she said,

She said she was eagerly awaiting the publication of her book project, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, which she will likely promote across the state.

True to her reputation as one of the state's busiest women, she's involved with a regional hospice group, helping plan a women's event in Annapolis this month and, as a Federal Election Commission attorney, preparing for the possibility that Congress will ban unregulated campaign contributions to political parties.

And she doesn't rule out a possible run for elected office herself.

Asked how it felt to be feted with an award and standing ovation after what must have been a difficult few months, she said, "This is home. These are my friends."

Prince George's County Councilwoman Dorothy F. Bailey, who helped organize the breakfast, said she pushed to get Glendening to attend. "I thought we really needed to publicly say thank you to her for everything she's done for the women of Prince George's County," Bailey said. "We celebrate Women's History Month here because of Frances Ann Glendening. She showed us how."

Certainly, the huge crowd at Martin's Crosswinds - mostly African-American women - seemed happy to see her.

Jacqueline Young of Bowie, who works at the Howard University law school and came to check out Riddick's candidacy, was somewhat surprised to see Glendening there, "mainly because of what's going on with the governor and his new wife," she said.

"But I was pleased, because it obviously means she's still committed to Prince George's County, and to Maryland."

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