Family, fitness and a breast cancer crusade

Marilyn Quayle: family, fitness and a breast cancer crusade

Cory SerVaas


Whoever says Marilyn Quayle is a frustrated lawyer on hold doesn’t know Marilyn Quayle.

True, she has spent the past 15 years of her life raising a family and expertly fulfilling the role of wife of a Congressman-turned-Senator-turned-Vice President. But on hold? Not for a minute.

Today, as we learn on our visit to her home–the 33-room Victorian mansion the family occupies on the grounds of Washington’s Naval Observatory–Marilyn Quayle is much more than a mother and a self-confessed vice-presidential advisor. Marilyn Quayle personifies the bright young career woman’s dream of “having it all” and “having it all together.” That “all” includes a happy and fit family and a challenge that’s probably bigger than her fondest dreams. Marilyn likes a good fight, and the fight that currently occupies her energy is the battle against breast cancer.

Her crusade is much more than the predictable effort by a prominent woman to do “good works.” This battle is personal. Her mother, Mary Alice Tucker, a brilliant woman trained as a pediatrician, died of breast cancer at age 56.

When Dr. Mary Alice Tucker felt a lump in her breast, she went to where one would expect her to go–to her teacher, an esteemed professor and department chairman at the medical school she had attended. Now retired, he recalls that he didn’t think Mary Alice Tucker’s lump was anything serious and suggested that she come back in a month. (This seeming lack of alarm surely was what the busy mother wanted to hear.) He said she didn’t come back in a month, and when she returned, it was because her sternum had fractured from the metastasized breast cancer.

In Marilyn’s emotional plea for women to have mammograms and regular checkups, she explains that her mother had always been too busy to monitor her own health.

“My mother lost her battle,” Marilyn tearfully told a Dallas audience last year. “I’m resolved to win the war in her name.”

Not being one to neglect an opportunity to advance a vital cause, she has enlisted her husband in the battle.

“Dan says we have to stop losing our women to breast cancer,” she emphasizes. Marilyn will fight for more research, more mammogram testing, and more attention all around to arrest this devastating and growing cancer.

So how does this young Hoosier play a leading role in the anti-cancer crusade, keep pace with a busy husband, nurture three vigorous children, and fulfill the social obligations of being the Vice President’s wife? Managing the spacious house is a cinch; Marilyn makes decisions easily and quickly. She’s completely at ease in the comfortable setting and has added many homey touches to the official residence. Some paintings in the residence, for instance, were donated by her uncle to the Indiana Museum of Art and leased by the museum to the Quayles for use during their vice-presidential tour of duty.

As Marilyn efficiently arranges for our photographer to shoot the cover photo in her dining room, she comes off as a most unflappable mother-career woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously but is very serious about her causes. She gets the job done while others might still be talking about it.

The way she lights up when we look at pictures of her child–Tucker, 16; Benjamin, 14; and Corrine, 11–tells us that these children aren’t suffering for want of mothering. A popular keynoter, in demand by audiences from coast to coast, Marilyn usually specifies one-day speaking engagements. She likes to be home with her family at night. Even after 18 years of marriage, romance is alive and well at the vice-presidential residence. Long-stemmed red roses arrive every Valentine’s Day, and whenever business keeps one or both of the Quayles on the road overnight, they always talk via phone at bedtime.

Although it’s rumored Marilyn won’t allow the children to watch television through the week, she compensates by helping them learn that exercise is fun. She also teaches them that junk food won’t help them grow into seven-handicap golfers like their father. Fitness has been a way of life for the Quayles since their childhood days in central Indiana.

Marilyn Quayles was brought up in a strict household in Indianapolis. A friend of the family, Eileen Miles, recalls Marilyn’s mother as having a sixth sense when it came to supervising her children. She seemed to know when one of the Tucker clan had broken a house rule even before asking. Her style of discipline was firm but controlled.

“She had a wonderfully modulated voice,” Eileen Miles said. “There never was any shouting. The kids knew what they could and couldn’t do. She was so down to earth; there was absolutely no pretense about her. She worked hard on community school projects and was an officer in the Meridian Hills Garden Club.

“She held her large family to the strictest standards of moral conduct. On an occasion when Marilyn’s brother made a small misstep bordering on misbehavior to others. Mrs. Tucker took it very hard … made a big effort to reprimand the offense. She expected her children to toe the line.”

In preparation for our interview with the second lady of the land, we had talked with Bill Tucker, Marilyn’s brother, now living in Cicero, Indiana. We asked him how he remembers Marilyn’s childhood days. “Oh, she was a tomboy. She was into everything,” he said. “I remember that she would start a fight … she’d mix it up, and she’d finish it, but when our mother would come in to settle it, she would be crying and the rest of us would catch the punishment.”

When we told Marilyn about this bit of intelligence, she laughed and said, “It’s true. I was the fourth child and smaller than the others. I was just this skinny little thing who could produce tears on demand. I was the one who started everything, but by the time mother came in I would be crying. Everyone would get into trouble except me.”

Although she is extremely modest about her academic side, Marilyn nevertheless captured so many honors in grade school that she soon earned the nickname of “Merit.”

The source of many of Marilyn’s admirable qualities came to light as we talked to her brother.

“Our mother was a ball of fire,” Bill said. “She was just nonstop doing something. Not only did she raise kids, she was a pediatrician. She was also on the school board.”

Much of Marilyn’s moxie can be credited to her family, to which challenge was

no stranger. This love for bypassing the traditional is easily traced to her mother’s father, a medical doctor who later changed his profession to veterinarian, with an office on the circle in Indianapolis.

“Why the change?” we ask Marilyn.

“He decided he liked treating animals better than people,” Marilyn says with a laugh. “People could tell him their symptoms; with animals he had to figure it out. It was a bigger challenge. He wrote textbooks on the subject that were widely used.”

Marilyn’s father also switched gears in the medical profession. He worked in tuberculosis as a pulmonologist when TB sanitariums were filled with hospitalized patients. Much of the TB battle was won when TB drugs made long hospitalizations a thing of the past. Then Dr. Tucker went to work for the government doing Medicare and Medicaid research in Indianapolis.

Getting a degree from Purdue University in political science was a breeze for Marilyn. She even had time to form the Pep Girls, a pompon cheerleader squad that she directed with no nonsense.

Working full-time as a lifeguard at the Meridian Hills Country Club and the Riviera Club in Indianapolis took care of her summer days. But the nights were reserved for law school at Indiana University, where she was one of 30 women in a class of 300. “I was going to do great things,” she recalls, grinning. “I was never going to get married, yeah.”

Then she me a handsome classmate named Dan Quayle. They were married ten weeks later.

After a brief law practice in the Huntington, Indiana, office of Quayle and Quayle (where she did most of the practicing), she put her law degree on hold for 12 years to help her husband, raise three children, and become a homebody.

If the expression “it’s never too late” had not already been coined, it certainly would have been created to fit Marilyn, who, as everyone knows, is today doing great things. She is said to have been the first “superwoman” of her set in the Quayles’ hometown, expertly balancing career and family, and occasionally “even baking bread.”

Although Marilyn was at first angered by the stories that made the Quayles headline material, today she can laugh at their absurdity. “The one that provokes the most fun,” she says, “is about all the wealth we supposedly inherited from Dan’s family business, newspapering. The truth is, Grandpa didn’t believe in inherited wealth, and there isn’t any. There’s none and that’s funny, because reporters can look at our tax returns and our disclosure statements and it’s not there. Just the other day we read that we are worth $600 million. If it comes out one more time from the same newspaper,” she says with a laught. “I’m going to demand that the owner of the paper give me the money so we will indeed have a newspaper fortune.”

The one thing the campaign proved to Marilyn is that the vast majority of Americans do not believe everything they read in the media. Nationally recognized reporters were embarrassed when they traveled to Middle America and found the general public ready to throw darts at them. It was humbling and heartwarming to see that no matter how hard the press may attack, the American public can see that it is unfair and rise above it.

Six hundred million dollars? She doesn’t fit that mold. We ask her if she has ever had a pedicure. The answer is no. Marilyn Quayle does her own hair. “Going to the beauty salon takes too much time,” she says. “I can’t sit still that long–I’ve got to be up and doing. I cut the children’s hair too. I used to do Dan’s until the middle of the campaign–then I never saw him. Now, Dan and Tucker sometimes get their hair cut at the Senate barber shop at a subsidized price of $12.”

Having to pay the expense for their move from Virginia to Washington, Mrs. Quayle says, sparked a house debate over what was worth paying to have moved.

If there is a down side to her new life-in-a-fishbowl existence, it’s that everywhere she goes, “security people go with me,” she says. “It’s important that the kids be as normal as they can be,” she adds. Even so, they complain that they can’t go to Wendy’s, can’t go to the movies, can’t go anywhere outside the house unaccompanied.

Still trying to give her children a relatively normal life, Marilyn plays tennis and goes horseback riding with them, and joins in family basketball. When playing tennis with her peers, she prefers singles. “It’s too hard to get three people at the spur of the moment in what little time I have to play. Singles is quicker exercise,” she says.

She enlisted Dan and the kids for a five-kilometer run up Pennsylvania Avenue to drum up money for low-cost mammograms and public service announcements. She also unblushingly mentions that on a skiing holiday she skied better than Dan–but the two boys were faster than both of them. Besides playing his three rounds of golf a week, Dan jogs a mile three or four times a week, she says, “no matter what.”

In her efforts to keep the family fit, Marilyn has overhauled the menu at home and aboard Air Force Two. “We always eat whole-wheat bread,” she says. “And the kids have fruit and cereal for breakfast. We eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. We eat a lot of chicken and fish, but we do like our hamburgers and steaks. Fortunately, we have very, very low cholesterol, so I don’t really worry about it.”

About 100 letters a day are addressed to Marilyn Quayle; she reads them at night. A lot of them come from Christians and include assurances that various churches are praying for the Quayles and the Bushes. Marilyn, a devout Christian herself, has found time to join Joanne (Mrs. Jack) Kemp and Susan (Mrs. James) Baker’s Bible study group.

The report that Marilyn Quayle is as much a policy advisor to her husband as any of the men on his staff is not denied by either her or the Vice President. Strong-minded and intelligent, she, in fact, might be viewed as Quayle’s senior advisor.

“With most of our presidents and vice presidents, the wife has played a major role in the administration,” she says. “No one would admit it before. Now, it’s out in the open.”

Dan, in turn, is said to be very comfortable with this admission. “Of course I share things with my wife,” he says. “She’s a colleague.”

In choosing a useful cause to embrace–just as Nancy Reagan spoke out against drugs and Barbara Bush is attacking illiteracy–Marilyn Quayle has targeted breast cancer. And for justifiable reasons. Breast cancer will strike 142,000 women in 1990. The rate of diagnosis has doubled since 1961.

Marilyn and the Vice President will be busy participating in events for Breast Cancer Month and making public service announcements, “which will highlight the importance of taking care of yourself,” she says. “We will stress the necessity of a man taking the initiative on this to make sure the woman he loves does take care of herself.”

In her public appearances on behalf of breast cancer research, she bluntly states that husbands are often more likely than their spouses to detect change in the women’s breasts. She urges that boys and girls be taught about the breast in sex-education classes so both sexes will be aware of any sign of the disease.

Although there is no known cause of breast cancer, Marilyn points out, heredity, high-fat foods, use of birth-control pills, and smoking are all risk factors. Women over 50 are also more at risk–and the number of female victims over 50 is growing. Seventy-five percent of those getting breast cancer have no history of the affliction in their family. One out of nine with breast cancer will die from it. One woman will be diagnosed every five minutes. Early detection will improve the recovery rate by 90 percent.

Because in rate situations some lumps do not show on mammograms, self-examination is important, Marilyn emphasizes. Symptoms to look for include lumps (eight out of ten lumps are not malignant), discoloration, tenderness, or any change in the breast. Early detection also gives the woman more options: a lumpectomy; no need for radiation; no worry about losing the breast.

Marilyn advises those women in the risk group at age 40 and all women over 50 to have an annual mammogram; others, every two years. She suggests before having the mammogram to make sure that the machine is “dedicated”–used solely for mammograms–and that it is checked every six months to make sure it is working properly. She believes that a mammogram should be done through a hospital, by a radiologist who does a large volume of patients, because he or she can readily see problems. She says some ob-gyns who are putting mammogram machines in their offices don’t know how to use them, nor do they have sufficiently trained technicians to perform the mammograms.

Marilyn says it is thus important for women to ask a few questions before submitting to a mammogram: Is the machine dedicated? When was it checked last? How many rads does it produce? How many patients do you see? How many films do you read?

“In England,” she tells us, “you cannot read mammograms unless you do a certain number. They’ve got people who actually spend a lot of time doing that, people who can immediately pick out an abnormality, even a small one.

“It’s most important that all women and men begin taking care of themselves. There’s so much you can do for yourself. Don’t rely entirely upon your doctor. And keep looking for a doctor who will work with you, one who will talk to you and treat you like you have a brain. I switched pediatricians until I finally found one who treated me like I was an intelligent human being and could tell him something about my own children.”

We speak of Rose Kushner, our ally and inspiration, who died of breast cancer at age 60. She was our voice, we are reminded, and we can’t be quiet now–not when someone dies of breast cancer every 13 minutes in the United States. This brings us to the question of breast cancer research. Marilyn is well-prepared.

“The House just yesterday passed out of committee a bill that designated funds from the increased budget in the NIH funding and earmarked them for breast cancer and cervical cancer research,” she says. “It’s the first time that’s ever happened.

“Unfortunately, the reason we’re seeing more emphasis placed on this is because the numbers are rising so rapidly. For 1990 it’s going to be one in nine women who has breast cancer, and the prediction by some is that within the next four years it will be one in seven.

“I don’t know about you,” Marilyn says, “but I’m just appalled that about every three days somebody calls me to say this friend of ours has breast cancer; and the ages are getting younger all the time.

“Breast cancer is now touching so many lives that the more awareness the Vice President and I can put on it–get the people talking about it–the bigger the move on it will be. One exciting aspect is the thrill I get every time a man comes up to me, whether on the street, in the elevator, or out to dinner, and says, ‘Thank you for talking about breast cancer.’ He says his wife, mother, siste, secretary, or someone has touched his life with it.”

Marilyn says people are now talking breasts. “Let’s face it,” she says, “we couldn’t talk about breasts before.” She tells us how thrilled she is about the interview she had with Joel Hefley, a congressman from Colorado, who does a show on cable stations. He asked questions about the breast and about how men can learn to do breast self-examinations. “This would not have happened a year ago,” she says.

Breezy, the Quayles’ Labrador dog, enters the room at this point and sits beside his mistress. Her arm is around his shaggy black neck as she says: “I talk a lot about getting cancer information in our sex-education classes in school. We don’t teach anything about how the kids should take care of themselves. They learn that girls between the ages of 10 and 14 develop breasts, and that’s it. They don’t learn what breasts are made of, what breast tissue is, about what is normal and what is abnormal. They aren’t taught breast self-examination, nothing. And the same with boys. They aren’t taught about testicular cancer.

“Boys and girls should be taught about all these kinds of cancers, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, and boys should be taught about breast cancer and how men get breast cancer too.”

AIDS and the blood supply, next on my list of questions, will have to wait, as we have run out of time.

At the door Marilyn sums up our interview in a neat little package that I carry away with me: “I think the most important thing is that all women and men should begin taking care of themselves. There’s so much one can do on his own. Don’t rely on your doctor alone.”

COPYRIGHT 1990 Saturday Evening Post Society

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