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updated: 11/2/2011 12:43 PM

Dorothy Rodham's legacy of tenacity, gumption

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  • In this Dec. 7 2007 file photo  then-Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton D-N.Y. left and her mother Dorothy Rodham attend a "Take Your Buddy to Caucus" event in Des Moines. According to the Clinton family: Dorothy Rodham Hillary Rodham Clinton's mother has died at 92.

      In this Dec. 7 2007 file photo then-Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton D-N.Y. left and her mother Dorothy Rodham attend a "Take Your Buddy to Caucus" event in Des Moines. According to the Clinton family: Dorothy Rodham Hillary Rodham Clinton's mother has died at 92.
    Associated Press

 
 

A suburban woman who never sought a career outside the home is widely considered as the force behind the tenacity and gumption of her daughter, one of the most powerful individuals in American government.

Dorothy Rodham, mother of Hillary Rodham Clinton, died Tuesday.

The former Park Ridge woman was 92.

"You live a little vicariously through your kids though not too much," Kevin O'Keefe, a college friend of Clinton's, remarked Tuesday.

O'Keefe remembers watching Rodham as Bill Clinton took the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992 and when her daughter was sworn in as senator of New York, and later, as secretary of state.

"She beamed," he said.

Dorothy Emma Howell was born in 1919 in Chicago, but was sent on a train to live with her strict grandparents in California after her parents' divorce.

After high school, Dorothy returned to Chicago hoping to reconcile with her mother, who had promised to pay for her college education. But when she arrived, she was tasked instead to work as the housekeeper.

Park Ridge librarians Tuesday pointed to archives noting Mrs. Rodham met her future husband, Hugh Rodham, when the two were working in a Chicago lace factory. They married in 1942, with eldest daughter Hillary born five years later, followed by sons Hugh and Tony.

Though without a college degree, Dorothy Rodham was always interested in furthering her education, taking college courses late into her years.

"By necessity she taught herself so many things," said Betsy Ebeling, an Arlington Heights resident and Clinton's closest childhood friend.

The Rodhams made their home at a brick colonial on the corner of Elm and Wisner streets in Park Ridge, blocks away from the family's church and school.

A stay-at-home mother, Dorothy Rodham instilled a sense of validity and respect in neighborhood children, as well as her own, by her ability to listen seriously to their concerns and quandaries.

"She was not the type to take over a party," Ebeling said. "People would come and talk to her. "

She prodded her daughter to stand up for herself and once sent her back outside to confront a bully.

Dorothy instilled empathy in her children by taking them to visit the Pennsylvania coal mine where her husband's relatives had worked.

Decades later, through her daughter's most tumultuous moments, Rodham was again always on hand, though rarely visible to the public.

She never commented on the Clintons' marriage or her daughter's presidential defeat. But she emerged to film an ad during the Iowa caucuses in which she said she would have voted for Hillary Clinton whether she was her daughter or not.

Ebeling and Rodham shared a box for Clinton's second swearing-in to the Senate, she recalls, on a warm winter day where the two shared a number of laughs.

Upon hearing of Dorothy Rodham's passing, Ebeling said she emailed a group of Maine South alumni who remain friends to this day. "She's the last mom of that group that has passed. It's an end of an era. She was part of that fabric of life."

Hugh Rodham, Sr. died in 1993, while they were living in Little Rock. In addition to her three children, survivors include her grandchildren.


• Daily Herald news services contributed.

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