Bob Dole's Divorce

Using the Divorce Issue

I usually would not use the divorce issue. I think it's dirty politics. I don't think it's right to use a failed marriage as a campaign issue. However, I found Bob Dole's attack on the Clinton family to be so rude and tasteless that it made me think that it was OK to trash Dole on this issue because what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Divorce returns To Bite Bob Dole

The New York Daily News, April 27, 1996.

WASHINGTON -- Even some fellow Republicans winced when Bob Dole asked voters who they'd rather leave their children with -- him or Bill Clinton.

"Perhaps by example, he would not be the most ideal person to raise the issue," said Bradley Keena of the conservative Free Congress Foundation. "His own family track record makes this a difficult ocean to navigate."

Bob Dole left his wife, and then teenage daughter, Robin, in 1971 -- having had dinner with them twice in the year before he asked for the divorce.

Clinton partisans call it flat out hypocrisy. They note that Clinton, for all his admitted marital troubles and allegations of womanizing, worked to save his marriage for the sake of his daughter Chelsea.

A Washington Post Poll released Friday showed that 52 percent of respondents would rather have Clinton watch their kids; 27 percent picked Dole. It was an even bigger margin among women -- 56 percent for Clinton and 20 percent for Dole.

Without the opening from Dole, Clinton backers would have likely kept mum on character-and-family comparisons.

But two weeks ago, Dole practically invited a debate by asking parents who would make a better guardian for their children if something happened. "I think you'd probably leave them with Bob Dole," he said.

Asked to clarify what he meant last week on CBS' Face the Nation, Dole floundered and said his pollsters came up with it. "You'd have to ask the people in the focus groups," he said.

Democratic Party Chairman Chris Dodd said it showed the GOP was in a freefall and "grasping at every twig and stick out there."

Dole's ex-wife, Phyllis, doesn't badmouth him and has even softened her statements that Dole didn't have much time for her or Robin.

"It's been said that he didn't spend much time with her, but he did," she said last week, noting that he taught Robin how to drive and took her to Europe one summer. "He was always a good father."

Still, Robin, now 41, saw so little of her father that she sometimes communicated with him by writing notes.

In the late 1960s and early '70s Dole the workaholic left home at 6 a.m. and got home at 11 p.m. He lived in the basement so he wouldn't wake the family, then shocked Phyllis with the simple words one night, "I want out."

Valley of the Doles by Gail Sheehy
An excerpt from the September, 1996, Vanity Fair

Phyllis Holden was the first wife who tried to save Bob Dole. An occupational therapist at the Battle Creek hospital where the nice-looking war hero with atrophied arms and clotted lungs seemed to be wasting away, she coaxed the young soldier to a dance at the officers' club. Three months later, in 1948, Bob married her. Released from the service with a "total and permanent disability," he enrolled at the University of Arizona, despite the fact that he couldn't write. Phyllis had to go to classes and take notes for him. He was dependent on her for very basic functions, and he loathed it. Eventually he began dragging a huge tape recorder to classes. In our first interview in '87 she gave me the most penetrating insight into Bob Dole's character: "I learned very quickly, you do not help Bob Dole unless he asks you."

Their breakup was bloodless. He had begun sleeping in the basement office of their Kansas City home. "I had no clue why," Phyllis recently told me. In the last year of their 23 year marriage, Senator Dole had dinner with his wife and child only twice - on Christmas and Easter. One day in December 1970 he walked upstairs and announced simply, "I want out." It was all Phyllis could do to insist that she and their daughter, Robin, then a senior in high school, be allowed to stay on in the house until the 16-year-old got through her Christmas holidays.

For the next year Phyllis held her breath - "I was traumatized" - unable to take any action or ask any questions. Meanwhile, a beautiful local model named Phyllis Wells appeared one day in the senator's Kansas City office. Swathed in a monkey-fur coat and black suede boots tipped with gold, the new mystery employee completely upset the equilibrium of the place where the usual take-home pay was around $450 a month.

"Damn!" says Ana Riojas, a staffer who used to bring her two children to work with her on weekends, "This glamorous creature shows up, tall and coiffed, and here all of us are working gals sitting there in polyester. This one couldn't type. We really never knew what she did, but she had a confidence about her that none of the rest of us had." Mainly she took phone calls from her mysterious "friend," who was, they later learned, Bob Dole. "He would spend the night at her house," says Riojas. "She was divorced and had a son in high school."

A former stewardess who was referred to as "Sam" (to avoid confusion with the other Phyllis), Wells was employed by Senator Dole's office from August 1971 to April 1972 according to the Senate employee-locator service, as a press assistant. Her salary was about $500 a month. "She was his girlfriend before he hired her," asserts David Owen. "She was just absolutely gorgeous, and much younger. There's no question that he was seeing her prior to being divorced." In a recent interview, Dole's first wife (now Phyllis Macey) said she knew nothing about the other woman.

About 13 months following Bob Dole's walkout, the senator's Washington office manager, Joe-Anne Coe, called his Kansas office to announce, "The boss is getting a divorce. Tomorrow. An emergency divorce.

An "emergency divorce" was a convenience that a judge chummy with a public official could arrange at the time, invoking stress and bad publicity as grounds for waiving the usual minimum 60-day waiting period.

On January 11, 1972, Phyllis was summoned to the office of Judge Adrian Allen. The deck was stacked against her. Bob Dole's lawyer, Sam Crow, an old law-school friend, dictated the terms laid out by his client. (Dole himself, according to Owen, was down in Florida on vacation with "Sam.") "It was like a snap of the finger," remembers Phyllis Holden Dole. "I didn't know it could happen to me." She says she can not recall further discussions with Bob Dole about the welfare of their daughter from that day on. ("We'd run into each other, maybe on Kansas Day," she recalls.) A spokesman for the Dole campaign, however, says that the former senator was always "actively involved" with Robin's mother in decisions regarding her welfare.

Dole continued his romantic relationship with "Sam" escorting her to Nixon's second inaugural ball in January 1973. His first wife, having given up her career for marriage, says, "I survived. I had to get a job and go off and leave Robin and move to Topeka." She got no child support, only minimal alimony and her furniture. (Robin, now 41, remains unmarried. She lost her job as a communications director for Century 21 when her Washington office was closed last year, and has sense been working for her father's campaign.)


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