'First Moms': They Were There When It All Began

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'First Moms': They Were There When It All Began

They say that behind every great man is a great woman, and without her nagging he never would have amounted to anything. Or something like that. Usually, of course, they're referring to the wife. But what about mom?

A veteran Time magazine correspondent, Bonnie Angelo, has stepped up to the plate for mothers with her new book "First Mothers: the Women Who Shaped the Presidents." Because so much attention, especially during the Hillary administration, has been trained on first ladies throughout the history of the United States, it's like a fresh breeze to hear about the presidents' mothers. Apart from the matrons of the Kennedys and Bushes, first moms don't get much press.

In "First Mothers," Ms. Angelo draws insightful portraits of 11 mothers of U.S. presidents, women she describes as being "blessed with common sense but uncommon wisdom."

Ms. Angelo came to Seoul last week to promote her new book. She gave an informative and interesting speech Monday at Yonsei New Millennium Hall, drawing on her 20-plus years of experience with Time, much of it in Washington in and around the White House. The crowd, despite the inclement weather that day, was surprisingly large, enthusiastic and responsive.

Actually, her first stop in Seoul was at the big downtown Kyobo Book Store, an appearance that merited airtime on the local Education Broadcasting System. At Yonsei University, the first thing you noticed about the journalist was how petite she was. But at the same time she radiated strength and tirelessness. This was a woman who had done things, gone places. Waiting to be introduced, she was the embodiment of sophistication. Once up on the podium, she spoke clearly and expressed her ideas cogently, while graciously waiting for the interpreter to convert her words to Korean.

"The leadership shown by presidents can be fickle," was her opening, which the Korean crowd may have agreed with wholeheartedly. Boldly perhaps, instead of focusing on the matronly subject matter of her books, she spoke mostly about the qualities a U.S. president needs to be successful.

To be an assertive and charismatic leader, she said, three qualities are necessary. A few presidents who exemplified those virtues, she said, were Ronald Reagan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton. First, their self-esteem and confidence should be unwavering. Second, leaders need a well-defined vision, and must be able to communicate it and persuade others to follow it. Last, the presidents must be master communicators. Ms. Angelo cited Mr. Roosevelt's fireside chats as an example of effective communication, and said that she never missed Mr. Clinton's speeches. "Clinton is so skilled at relating to every member of the audience," she said. The writer also gave a list of presidential no-nos: inflexibility, isolation and losing one's credibility. Richard Nixon, she said, fell into these holes.

Asked about George W. Bush, Angelo was rather reserved. She reminded the audience that Mr. Bush failed to win the popular vote - then pointed out that he's only been in the White House a matter of months. She said she sees Mr. Bush changing from a president acting like a CEO of a huge company to an activist. In one sentence? "He's doing well," she said.

The students on hand seemed in high spirits after the lecture. As the crowd filed out, Ms. Angelo remarked, "I hope they like my book."

by Kong Seo-hee

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