Hoping that a little time away from his family might straighten out Gov. Mark Sanford, Jenny Sanford picked up her four boys and brought them to Sullivan’s Island. In spite of her efforts, the governor secretly traveled to Argentina last June to spend six days with his mistress before giving the press conference that would put his career, affair, and marriage into the history books of political scandal. And the beach trip that Jenny thought would shock her husband back to reality has turned into a permanent move for her and her boys.
Though the couple has owned the house on Sullivan’s Island for more than a decade, they’ve spent most of their time in the last seven years at either the Sanford farm at Coosaw Plantation or the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia.
“We haven’t really lived in our home. We’ve almost been visitors there,” Jenny says of the beach house.
The couple had even put the property on the market early last year, months before the affair became public. But once Jenny decided to leave, she went to Sullivan’s Island, memorably fielding media questions at the end of her driveway after the scandal broke before peddling up the street on her bike.
“Now we’re becoming part of the community again, and we’re feeling nothing but a warm welcome,” Jenny says.
This unfortunate situation
Sanford points to her teenage boys, her faith, and her community for helping her weather Mark’s adultery and the subsequent media circus that followed. This month’s publication of her memoir, Staying True, has required quite a bit more time under the spotlights, but Jenny sees value in it.
“If there’s a way I can take this unfortunate situation and turn it into a positive one, even though it means talking a little bit further about the issue, then I felt encouraged to do so,” she says of the book. “I wrote it really in the hope that it helps more women … A number of people seemed to be empowered by the way I responded, because I didn’t crumble.”
She wasn’t standing with her husband through his rambling public confession in June. Media attention in the weeks that followed focused on the couple’s last ditch effort to save the marriage. But Jenny had already been fighting that fight after finding clandestine e-mails in January.
Friend Frannie Reese thinks Jenny eventually saw that Mark didn’t feel remorseful for what he did. The world saw that, too, in an interview where Sanford referred to his mistress as his soul mate, while offering to try to learn to love his wife again.
Coverage of Staying True has focused on stories about the politician’s penny-pinching ways. In one instance described in the memoir, Mark gives Jenny a picture of half a bicycle for her birthday, the picture of the other half for Christmas, and months later actually gives her a used, purple bike. In another, Mark asks a friend to pick out a diamond necklace for Jenny. When he sees it for the first time, he exclaims, “That is what I spent all that money on?! I hope you kept the box!”
According to Reese, Jenny decided she wasn’t going to live her whole life complaining. “She accepted him — and she laughed about it,” Reese says.
Made for sacrifice
At one point in the book, Jenny declares that “women were made for sacrifice.” Concerned that the message may be misunderstood, she explains that she has found the notion of sacrifice inherent in motherhood.
“You wake up every day thinking about your children, because they depend on you,” she says. “It becomes, in many respects, part of your psyche.”
But that sacrifice doesn’t include laying down like a doormat, and Jenny wants to make sure her boys know the difference between right and wrong. Jenny has tried to be honest with her teenage sons, Marshall, Landon, and Bolten, along with 11-year-old Blake, explaining what was going on between their parents every step of the way.
“There’s no question the experience will cause them to grow up a lot faster than they otherwise would have,” Jenny says regretfully. “But my hope is that they’ll learn from Mark’s mistakes.”
Promoting Staying True, Jenny has spent a lot of her time over the past few weeks on television shows — speaking to everyone from Barbara Walters to Jon Stewart.
The state’s soon-to-be ex-first lady is excited to move on with her life, getting past the talk show appearances and book signings to settle into her island home.
“Frankly, I just look forward to getting back to a normal existence at the beach,” she says, before stressing, “without a spotlight.”