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The Woman to Whom Defense Secretary Surrendered

Times Staff Writer

In the summer of 1942, a young Army nurse named Jane Dalton shook off the aftereffects of pneumonia, which she had caught in some chilly barracks, and boarded a troop transport ship in San Francisco, bound for Australia.

When World War II began, she had volunteered for overseas duty because she “thought it would be exciting.”

She was one of about 25 women--nurses and Red Cross workers--among thousands of men on the three-week journey. It was exciting indeed.

On board, over a chess game, she met a young soldier named Caspar Weinberger.

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“He was a second lieutenant, and I ranked him,” she said mischievously. She, too, was a second lieutenant but had been one longer, thus outranking him.

Apparently, this difference in status was of little consequence. When the ship docked, they went ashore and got married.

That must have been some chess game. “I had absolutely no doubts,” she said about the rapid-fire courtship and marriage. “My sister-in-law, who was quite a catty dame, said, ‘I knew she’d go and marry some soldier.’

‘Still Some Soldier’

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“So my story is, I did. And I’m still married to him after 40-odd years and he’s still some soldier.”

To be precise he is the secretary of defense, thanks in no small part to his wife, Jane Dalton Weinberger, who coaxed his first step into politics when he ran successfully for the California Legislature in 1952.

Lively and Peppery

Now 67, Mrs. Weinberger’s matronly appearance, soft voice and Maine-New England accent could fool a newcomer into believing he’d met a sedate grandmother. Although she is a grandmother of two, she is still the lively, peppery Jane who ran off and married a soldier she’d known for three weeks, disregarding what others would say.

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On another sort of adventure almost 40 years later, Mrs. Weinberger reluctantly left her Hillsborough, Calif., home (and rose garden) when her husband, whom she had been urging to retire, accepted his new job with the Reagan Administration.

“I’ve been with Cap forever. What he wants to do, I’m more than willing,” she said. “But I was not too happy to leave.”

Mrs. Weinberger knew very well that when they went to Washington the new President would be wielding his budget ax, hacking away at what he called waste and fraud.

What she didn’t know is that Ronald Reagan would also chop at the Future Scientists Fund, her favorite program.

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“We were cut when the Reagan Administration decided to cut back on government spending,” Mrs. Weinberger said easily, speaking as if the Reagan Administration were some disembodied invader she had nothing to do with, rather than her husband’s place of employment.

“It was my program!” she said with an exasperated chuckle, sitting by a crackling fire in their new Tudor-style home in a suburban development where houses range in price from $1 million to $3 million. Next to her sat their dog, Kiltie, a son of Lassie.

The Future Scientists Fund had made it possible for more than 1,500 young scholars to spend summers working with internationally recognized scientists at the Jackson Laboratory, a cancer research center in Bar Harbor, Me. She is a member of the board of governors of the Jackson Laboratory.

“They were going to abolish the program, which had been going on for 45 years,” she said.

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So, did Mrs. Weinberger use her considerable entre to protest the cuts?

“No,” she said. “I did what the President asked: ‘Raise it yourself.’

“I wrote to 500 of my nearest and dearest asking for money and raised enough to keep us in business for two summers.”

Fund raising was nothing new to Mrs. Weinberger. In the last 40 years she estimates she probably has raised money for a hundred causes from hospitals to political campaigns.

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Besides fund raising, another of her skills is writing. The author of 11 children’s books, Mrs. Weinberger decided recently to combine her talents and make a foray into the adult reading world, writing a book about how to raise money. The book, called “Please Buy My Violets,” is due out in May.

For Mrs. Weinberger, one of the most exciting things about the book is that it will be put out by a new publishing company: her own.

This all developed as result of writing a book called “Vim,” about a Very Important Mouse who lived in a research laboratory. “Vim” was written to help raise money for the Future Scientists Fund, whose fate was uncertain after Reagan’s budget cuts. Using her own money, Mrs. Weinberger resurrected an old ambition and started her own publishing company.

Named After Residence

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The 18-month-old company is called Windswept House, after the Weinbergers’ Maine residence where the company--Mrs. Weinberger’s office is above the garage--is located. Employing one secretary and a few part-time typists, the company has published several of Mrs. Weinberger’s books, as well as those of other authors.

Daily Summer Routine

Mrs. Weinberger lives in Windswept House from May to October, returning to Washington only for special events, “like Nancy Reagan’s birthday or an important foreign visitor. I don’t do it for ordinary things,” she said, “because it’s very expensive going back and forth. You know you can go to San Francisco for $99 but going to Maine costs me $267.”

While running her company, her daily summer routine also includes swimming and taking care of her 6-year-old granddaughter, Rebecca Weinberger, who spends the summer. The home has a boat dock, a Jacuzzi and a solar-heated swimming pool, whose design had been problematical.

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“I had to get rid of the architect and do it myself,” she said, “because they would not see how to catch the sun.”

Mrs. Weinberger started the company while at home recovering from a leg injury, sustained shoving a large box of china. In her office, “I would sit and work and I had a marvelous view,” she said. “I was really irked at all my friends out there in the water. So unless Cap came up, which was very seldom, I didn’t get out much.

Her new company operates “at a deficit,” she admitted. “But we’re not discouraged in any way. It’s a good excuse for getting out of Washington.”

Of course, many people would find it surprising that the wife of a Cabinet officer would want to get out of town and miss all the glamour and excitement.

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Teas, Teas and More Teas

“You know what I do in Washington?” she said. “I go to meetings and luncheons and meetings and teas and luncheons and teas and dinners and banquets. I support every cause in this city.”

When Cap Weinberger first served in Washington for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford--with the Federal Trade Commission, the Office of Management and Budget, the White House and as secretary of health, education and welfare--the Weinbergers used to entertain frequently.

“I used to have a routine Sunday afternoon tea party,” as well as presiding over countless lunches and dinners, she said. But this time around, it is not quite the same.

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“I don’t do as much I did before,” she said. “I strongly suspect I got bored.

“We are responsible for (overseeing) 10 to 15 functions a month. But so is everybody else. You go out every afternoon and every night.”

Their life style in the million-dollar home in Virginia and Windswept House is not supported by the secretary’s salary, which is less than $86,200. The Weinbergers are quite well off. He listed more than $1.5 million in income and assets in his 1985 financial disclosure statement. His job with the Bechtel Group had paid a hefty six-figure sum.

“We’ve dipped into capital. You have to,” she said.

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“I know this sounds ridiculous. Like I saw where Mrs. (Carolyn) Deaver (wife of former White House aide Michael Deaver) said she can’t live on Mike’s salary. You can’t say you can’t live on it, because you could. I could live on $20,000 if I had to, and have,” she said.

“But you could not live at the level expected of you. You couldn’t contribute to all the causes that you’re asked to contribute to. And you have to have quite a wardrobe. Even an old lady like me has to have something to put on when you go out.”

‘I Don’t Have Any Answers’

But Mrs. Weinberger does not want to appear as if she is complaining about the low government salary, as so many other spouses in this Administration have.

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“There’s no way the government could pay a man what he’s worth,” she said. “I’m a person who always believed you ought to give your time to the government. But then I know the argument is that only rich people would serve. So I don’t say that any more. I don’t have any answers.

“My wants aren’t many. In fact I don’t want anything. I like people to contribute to causes I’m interested in. I would like the company to flourish, I’m a fairly content person.”

Mrs. Weinberger is also expected to accompany her husband on numerous foreign trips, which tend to be no-sleep, dash-around affairs. She does not go on all the trips.

“I have two or three criteria that make me decide,” she said. “One of them is if he’s going to some outlandish place, some tropical climate where I’m afraid he’ll eat what he ought not to eat, get himself sick, which he’s known to do, being too polite to say no. Then I go. I think he needs taking care of.

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“Or if it’s a trip where the powers that be in the country will feel that they’ve been put down if the wife doesn’t come, then I hear about it and I go.”

Living in Washington, traveling the world and the social-political whirl is not something she adores. On the other hand she does not feel that being a “wife of,” as they say here, squelches her identity or ruins her life.

“I wouldn’t pick it as a way of life. That’s the truth,” she said. “But I’ve never had any patience with people who said they had nothing to do or they were bored or their husbands are always off doing glamorous things and they were left at home with nothing to do. I’ve always done something.”

Many people wonder how much time a Cabinet member and spouse spend together.

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“We’re always together,” she said. “But if you mean to be privately together, the answer is none. He had three weekends last summer when he came to Maine. Then he took a vacation. It started out to be 10 days but it turned out to be six.”

No Strain

Can this sort of life put a strain on a marriage?

“Not this one,” she said. “You have to just relax and enjoy it. If you were up in arms every day your husband wouldn’t be able to do his work. He’d be all keyed up because you’d be yakking at home. You’ve got to have peace at home if you’re going to do something like defense. You can’t have your mind cluttered up with the fact that your wife really wanted to go to Bermuda.”

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She pondered that a second, then added, “Sounds like a good idea.”

Mrs. Weinberger’s publishing company is in its infancy, but her interest in writing goes back a long way.

“I’ve always been a writer,” she said. “I’ve always written short stories, ever since I can remember, but I stopped for about 30 years while I ran political campaigns and the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and such.”

Mrs. Weinberger was born and raised in Maine, attending the University of Maine and the Somerville Hospital school of nursing. While teaching nursing she signed up with the government to offer her services in case of a national emergency.

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“Naturally I thought it was going to be a flood or something,” she said. “So, when the war started, I was called.”

Three days after their wedding in Australia, the Weinbergers were sent their separate ways in the war, seeing each other occasionally on leave. They did not set up permanent residence together until they were reunited in San Francisco after the fighting stopped and he returned with a Bronze Star.

In the Bay Area, where Caspar Weinberger had been born, they settled and raised two children: Arlin, now 43, and Caspar Jr., now 37. Mrs. Weinberger did not hold any paying jobs but threw herself into volunteer projects and took an active role in her husband’s campaigns for the California Legislature, where he represented the 21st District from 1952 to 1958.

In fact, Mrs. Weinberger had been an active precinct worker before that and encouraged her husband, then working for a law firm, to run for office. She did not consider running herself, even though she had been more interested in politics than he.

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“I’m interested but I had two small children,” she said. “And I must say I’m as old-fashioned as the next one. I believe when you have small children you ought to stay home. I think women can do it, though. I’ve seen some step into their husbands’ places and do it better.”

In those days there were chairs in the back of the legislative chamber where wives could sit and watch their husbands work. Jane Weinberger was a frequent and interested visitor. One day they were voting on a pay raise for the legislators--a proposal she opposed. “Cap’s seatmate said to him, ‘You’re with us, aren’t you?’ ” Mrs. Weinberger recalled. “Cap said, ‘I can’t vote for the raise. My wife’s in the back.’ ”

While her children were growing up Mrs. Weinberger began writing for a Sunday school magazine, selling a story called “Tabitha Jones” for $7.50.

“I still occasionally get a 75-cent royalty on it,” she said.

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She later made it into one of her books.

Many of her children’s books are based on real-life situations or characters. She has written one on their dog, called “Kiltie,” that is illustrated with photographs taken by her camera-crazy husband.

Another book, “That’s What Counts,” is about Tapley P. Bear, a character named for Jackie Tapley, a woman who built the Weinbergers’ swimming pool in Maine. At the suggestion of Mrs. Weinberger, Tapley also got into the teddy bear business in the winters, when the company could not dig pools.

Moral lessons are woven in with a humorous, light touch.

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Vim, the Very Important Mouse, thought he was too important because he had special care at the research laboratory.

“This has given him an inflated idea of himself,” Mrs. Weinberger wrote. “In fact he is a proud and puffed-up little mouse. . . . Vim does not speak any English but in mouse language he talks all the time, ‘Squeak-Squeak-Squeak--Look at me, look at me,’ he says. He is really quite tiresome.” Vim greatly resembles many politicians in this regard, but perhaps that is coincidental.

“I only made one mistake with Vim,” Mrs. Weinberger said. “I wrote to all my friends urging them to buy Vim and got a letter back from one of them and darned if she wasn’t supporting the rights of these mice, which have been bred for research now for 30 years. But then we also have some wacky ones in Maine who want to release all the mice. They’re all mutations.”

Mrs. Weinberger does occasionally write about the “nitty-gritty” of Washington life, but only in a series of private, round-robin letters she sends to friends.

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She doubts she would ever publish them, although she has been encouraged to.

“I think too many people write about life in Washington,” she said.

But then. . . .

“I’m not saying that I won’t.”

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Washington’s power players should note: She has surprised people with her daring ventures before.


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