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Jenny Sanford Details Tumult In 'Staying True'

One week before it was announced the couple would divorce, South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford and Gov. Mark Sanford hosted a Christmas Open House at the Governor's Mansion in Columbia.
One week before it was announced the couple would divorce, South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford and Gov. Mark Sanford hosted a Christmas Open House at the Governor's Mansion in Columbia.

Jenny Stanford did not stand by her man — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford — as he made a rambling, tearful apology last summer for an affair with a woman in Argentina.

But she felt a strong desire to make a statement.

"Not a sound bite," she says in her new memoir, Staying True, "but to really let the world know where I was coming from."

That statement (reproduced at the bottom of this page) drew much praise.

"It was very honest and from the heart," Sanford said, "speaking about things that matter to me: marriage, family; I quoted from the Bible; you know, I asked for people to respect our privacy while I did my best to heal our family."

Sanford tells NPR's Renee Montagne that she did not attend her husband's news conference for two reasons.

"One, he didn't ask me," she said, "but if he had asked me, I would've said no. Two, we were separated. I don't know what I would have stood by him about."

The governor had been in Argentina until that morning, she said, and had only gotten in touch with her that day.

Another 'Gut Punch'

And as she describes in the book, Gov. Sanford called his estranged wife after the press conference with a question: "How'd I do?"

"Talk about another gut punch," Sanford tells Montagne. "I said, 'gee whiz. He saw me as an adviser and wanted me to give him political advice about how he was received.'"

Asked what she told her husband, Sanford recalls saying, "'Are you kidding? You cried for your lover and said very little of me or the boys."

"You know, from a wife's perspective, no, he did not say what I wished he had said. And frankly, from a political perspective, he talked way too long," she said.

Influence Of Politics

In fact, Sanford places much of the blame for her husband's fall from grace — and their pending divorce — on his success in politics.

"I can trace back — the unraveling of our marriage really began when he became a congressman," Sanford said.

He ran highly principled campaigns, Sanford said, which were built on frugality and called for measures like privatizing Social Security.

But the strength that was required for Gov. Sanford to maintain his political principles "went hand in hand with the stroking of the ego that comes with people in high political office," she said.

And that process begins the moment a candidate wins an election, she said, as seemingly overnight he is quickly transformed into someone people want access to.

"It becomes that much more important that you remain grounded in your values," Sanford said, "and over time, it becomes clear to me today that he lost sight of those, and became disconnected from the person that he originally was."

The Sanford Family

There were no outward signs that her husband was straying from those values, Sanford said. For instance, he never deviated from his allegiance to intense frugality.

"This is a guy that can pinch a penny better than anybody I know," Sanford said, "I mean, to his core" — in both his political campaigns and his personal life.

For instance, there are the stories about then-Rep. Sanford sleeping on a futon in his Washington office to save money. And the governor once gave her a drawing of a bicycle — or, more accurately, half a bicycle — for her birthday.

"And then I got another picture, with half a bike, for Christmas," she said. "And then he delivered the bike — it wasn't even a new bike. It was a $25 used purple bike."

That unusual gift didn't rattle Sanford, who noted it as a sign of how deeply seated her husband's frugality really was.

Asked about the state of their relationship now, with the finalization of their divorce looming, Sanford said, "One of our boys just had a birthday. And Mark and I together took the boys out for dinner, we had a delightful time. And we went back to the house and had birthday cake and opened presents, and then he drove back to Columbia.

"So, you know what, we are getting along beautifully, which is a choice on both of our parts. We are committed to being as compatible as we can be for the sake of our children."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.