Running for President of the United States means thinking that you’re the one person best equipped to become the leader of the free world — which could be considered a personality tic, to say the least. “You’re probably fairly weird,” is how Newt Gingrich once put it. This is why The National Memo has launched “Strange But True,” a regular feature that will present old anecdotes, little-known facts, curious quotes and amusing videos showing a side of our politicians that they probably wish the public would ignore. (Here’s the archive.)
Newt Gingrich, who has staked his career on defending conservative family values, has been married three times. His struggles with monogamy have been getting him in trouble for decades, most notably the 1980 fight he had with his first wife, Jackie Battley Gingrich, when she was in the hospital getting a tumor removed and he wanted a divorce.
But many forget how they came together in the first place: She was his high school geometry teacher and he was, as his mother put it in a 1995 interview with Vanity Fair, “her little boy.” They met in 1960, when Gingrich was 17 and had just arrived to Columbus, Georgia. He was socially awkward and mocked as a “little adult” for the way he dressed, but he was bursting with ambition and already looking beyond high school girls — he had vowed that he would marry Miss Battley, and they were secretly dating by the time he graduated the next spring.
They married soon after he finished his freshman year at Emory University in the summer of 1962. His family boycotted the wedding because he was 19 and she was 26, but they had come around by the time Gingrich was elected to Congress in 1978. Jackie worked and had two children while Newt attended college and graduate school and tried to run for office
“He saw a nurturing, mothering kind of person that he needed, and she finished raising him,” said Georgia journalist Mary Kahn, who knew the couple and was married to Newt’s former campaign manager at the time of the divorce, according to the 1995 Vanity Fair article.
The romance was already on its way out before the fight in the hospital. Gingrich was in the middle of a relationship with Marianne Ginther, who would become his second wife within the year. She was a younger woman, and he was no longer hot for teacher. “I don’t think he was capable at the time of loving anybody more than he loved himself,” said Kahn.