Mother’s Day

Linda Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – The Arkansas River was brilliant blue today, just like the after-Thanksgiving skies. This may be dubbed Black Friday by storekeepers, but I’m calling it Mother’s Day. Because today is my mother’s birthday – Winnie Ivous Sizemore Burton (1914-2003) – and because I visited the William J Clinton Presidential Center today and caught a special exhibit about two mothers named Dorothy Howell Rodham (1919-2011) and Virginia Clinton Kelley (1923-1994). The Center is an imposing glass and steel structure on the banks of the Arkansas River; open, airy, light, and crammed with exhibits showing everything from an exact replica of the Oval Office to Billy Clinton’s high school diploma. Christmas decorations were up; I caught my reflection in a giant golden ornament on one of the red-ribboned trees. The top floor shows Life in the White House; Floor 2 offers an orientation film and a timeline of Clinton’s 8-year presidency; videos and interactive stations involve the viewer in moments of history. The temporary exhibit honoring the mothers was on the ground floor; tender memories lovingly displayed with an intro by granddaughter Chelsea Clinton.

Virginia Dell Cassidy was born June 6, 1923 in Arkansas; her father was a grocer and her mother a nurse anesthetist. In 1943, while studying to be a nurse anesthetist like her mother, she met and married William Jefferson Blythe Jr. He died in an automobile accident three months before their son was born – William Jefferson Blythe III, August 19, 1946. In 1950 Virginia married Roger Clinton and had a second son, Roger Clinton Jr. It was 1962 when Billy Blythe asked to legally change his name to Clinton, so everyone in the family would share the same name. Roger Clinton died of cancer in 1967, and in 1969 Virginia married Jeff Dwire; he died of complications of diabetes in 1974. On January 17, 1982, Virginia married Richard Kelley (1915–2007), an executive at a food distribution brokerage firm. Their marriage lasted until her death from complications of breast cancer at the age of 70 at her home in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She is buried alongside her first husband in Hope, Arkansas. Her firstborn son William Jefferson Blythe Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, the 40th and 42nd governor of the State of Arkansas, and the 42nd president of the United States, serving from 1993-2001. He continues to be active in public service today. The quote displayed by a large poster of Virginia reads: Life happens in the present, and you’d better make the best of it.

Dorothy Emma Howell was born June 4, 1919 in Chicago, the daughter of a firefighter. Her parents divorced when she was very young and she and her sister were sent to live with grandparents in California. Dorothy left their home at age 14 and worked as a housekeeper and nanny, eventually finishing high school and returning to Chicago. While applying for a job as a clerk typist, she met Hugh Ellsworth Rodham (1911-1993), eight years her senior. They married in 1942 and she became a full-time homemaker, raising three children – daughter Hillary Diane Rodham, born October 26, 1947; and then sons Hugh and Tony – in suburban Park Ridge, Illinois. In 1987, Dorothy and husband Hugh moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, to be close to daughter Hillary and granddaughter Chelsea. She then took college courses in psychology and child development. Husband Hugh died in 1993 but Dorothy remained active, although she valued her privacy. In 2006, she moved to Washington, DC. In 2007 she campaigned for her daughter’s presidential nomination. She died November 1, 2011 and is buried alongside her husband in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her daughter Hillary, who was First Lady of the State of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, and senator from the state of New York, was the first woman to seek a presidential nomination, and now serves our country as Secretary of State. The quote displayed by a large poster of Dorothy reads: You can’t quit. You’ve got to see through what you’ve started.

Winnie Ivous Sizemore, my mother, was born November 23, 1914 in Alabama; her father was a sawmill operator and farmer. Her mother died when she was 2 and her sisters were 5 and 8; her father remarried the next year and three more daughters came of that marriage. In 1937, when Ivous was studying to become a nurse, she met and married Craig Sherer Burton (1918-2011) in Jasper, Alabama. She didn’t pursue her nursing career but was a fulltime homemaker and mother to three children – Linda Lou Burton, born April 4, 1939, and then sons Craig Jr and Hal. She followed her husband to Virginia and Camp Peary during WWII, and to Mississippi and a dairy farm after the war; after a brief stint in Pennsylvania, they settled in Alabama permanently where she provided support for their accounting business. Always active in her community, she survived both breast cancer and a stroke and was an inspiration and a light in the lives of her three grandsons and eleven great-grandchildren. She died February 10, 2003 and is buried in Jasper, Alabama. During an interview in her 87th year, when asked what message she’d like to pass along to her great-grandchildren, she told this story: When I was little, my Mama would inspect the dishes after I’d washed them. If I didn’t get them clean enough, she’d set them back in the dishwater and make me wash them all again. She wanted to teach me responsibility! That’s what you should think about every day – do a good job when you have a job to do.

Bill and Hillary certainly have heeded the advice their mothers gave; I try to do so, as well.

About the William J Clinton Presidential Center

1200 President Clinton Avenue, Little Rock, Arkansas 72201, 501-374-4242

Hours Mon-Sat 9 AAM – 5 PM, Sun 1 -5 PM

Clinton Museum Store, 610 President Clinton Avenue, 501-748-0400,

Forty-Two, on-site restaurant at the Center,

Greeter and Guard Marco Evans by the Oval Office Exhibit