How life in the White House killed Dr. Connie's marriage
Dr. Connie Mariano was personal physician to two U.S. presidents. CONTRIBUTED
The book brims with candor, humor, and fascinating personal insights. She recalls fearing losing her job because she couldn’t find a Band-Aid for President George H.W. Bush’s blister during a golfing trip.
In her nine years at the White House — from the last year of President Bush to eight years of President Bill Clinton — she witnessed the dedication of other Filipinos on the staff and their devotion to their bosses: Master Chiefs Joe Fama; Lito Bautista and Fred Sanchez, who worked as personal valets to the presidents and their families. They were, she says, her lifeline to surviving the stressful environment of the presidential residence.
“I could not have survived those years without the help of many Filipinos in the White House, especially several valets of the President, who are Pinoys. Many times, I got the inside info on the president’s schedules and plans from the Pinoy valets even before the security men did,” she writes.
Dubbed the “White House Bag Lady,” Dr. Connie (full name: Eleanor Concepcion Mariano) was always bringing medical supplies and equipment for “just in case” moments. She went on more than 130 overseas trips with the presidents, met world leaders, the Pope, kings and queens. She recalls how she accidentally flooded the toilet aboard a yacht owned by the King of Spain.
Being a physician to the POTUS or the President of the United States is a very demanding job. It requires “invisibility” to the cameras but being close enough to respond should anything happen.
“To be in the presence of the president is to stand in the Kill Zone and to sense the rarefied, exciting and potentially deadly experience to an assassin’s most prized prey,” she writes.
Dr. Connie found herself a crucial character in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She drew a blood sample from President Clinton to match it with DNA on Lewinsky’s dress. She writes of the “tall slender long-haired beauties” – or POTUS baits — who occasionally paraded in front of Clinton.
Dr. Connie also cared for Virginia Kelley, President Clinton’s mother, before she died of cancer; treated First Lady Hillary Clinton for a blood clot; stitched First Lady Barbara Bush’s arm after a fall; and gave a Heimlich maneuver to a White House guest during a holiday gathering.
As Clinton’s term drew to a close, Dr. Connie mulled the next stage in her career. Her thoughts are contained in a journal to her son, Jason, where she writes: “Mommy is gone on another trip this week. The house is dark and sad. When she is away, it is as though she is dead…”
“My hands shaking, I closed the notebook, I felt as though I have been stabbed in the chest. I have been dead to my family for too long, to my two little boys, and to my husband. My decision has been made then: It was time to leave the military at the end of my tour with Clinton.”
The book turns reflective when Dr. Connie looks back at how she became so wrapped up in the care of the presidential families she had forgotten her own. “I have been missing in action for nine years to take care of the First Family. Would my real family need me when I finally come home to stay?” she writes.
Her marriage “died,” Dr. Connie confesses. “I didn’t know how to be a wife. I also grew to become another person from the one Richard married eight years after we met in high school. Like many couples who separate, we found that we simply have grown apart, not together.” Her former husband, Richard Stevens, was a lawyer. They have two sons, Jason and Andrew.
In 2001, she retired from the Navy to join the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. She founded the Center for Executive Medicine in 2005. It is a presidential-like practice that provides care to about 350 CEOs around the world. She is married to a former patient at the Mayo Clinic, John Weber, who is CEO and president of Remy International.
When John proposed marriage, Dr. Connie told him, “Don’t be ridiculous! I’m your doctor!” He said he’ll get another doctor, to which she shot back: “You’ll never find a better doctor.” @TheFilAm
Maricar CP Hampton is a freelance journalist. She was awarded a 2010 New America Media fellowship on Ethnic Elders and Caregiving.