A Hoosier Dream Life for Whittier Native
Six years ago Susan Bayh was a waitress at Bob’s Big Boy and a shoe salesperson at Foot Locker, working two summer jobs simultaneously to pay her way through USC’s law school.
Now, she lives in the governor’s mansion in Indianapolis.
“I keep pinching myself to see if this is real,” said Bayh, 29, whose husband, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh, 33, is the youngest governor in America.
Susan Bayh (pronounced by), who works as a lawyer three days a week in addition to her duties as Indiana’s First Lady, was born in 1959 in Whittier, Calif., to Jet Propulsion Lab engineer Robert Breshears and his wife, Carol, a newspaper, radio and television editor.
It wasn’t long before the family moved to La Canada where Susan went to St. Bede’s Catholic School and Paradise Canyon Elementary School. An honor student at La Canada High School, she was a class officer for four years, cheerleader and volleyball champ.
She graduated from UC Berkeley as a political science major in 1981 and picked up her USC law degree in 1984. A $2,000 scholarship for being named “Miss Southern California” in 1982 “was a big help toward my law school tuition,” she recalled. (In 1983, as “Miss Pasadena,” Bayh was a finalist for the “Miss California” phase of the “Miss U.S.A.” beauty pageant.)
By then she had already made the acquaintance of Birch Evans Bayh III while working as a summer intern for U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Alameda) in Washington, D.C., in 1981. It took the son of the former senator from Indiana, Birch Bayh, “three weeks to ask me out after we met. He’s a very careful guy,” she said.
The courtship went on four years, mainly by phone and letters, and they were married April 13, 1985, at Washington Cathedral. Evan Bayh had gone to the Cathedral’s St. Albans School from sixth through 12th grade before enrolling at Indiana University where he later earned his law degree.
In 1986, Bayh, a Democrat, ran for his first political office, Indiana secretary of state, winning by 125,000 votes and spoiling a Republican sweep. As the youngest secretary of state in the nation, he was a chip off the old block. His father was minority leader of the Indiana House of Representatives when he was only 28 and Speaker of the House when he was 30.
Evan Bayh decided to run for governor last year. His opponent, 57-year-old Republican Lt. Gov. John Mutz, had held state offices 20 years. “It was a tough race, a kung-fu battle,” said Susan Bayh, “with Evan squeaking narrowly to victory by a 53% vote.”
She added that “Dan Quayle, who defeated Evan’s father for the Indiana Senate seat in 1980, campaigned for Mutz. (Then) President Ronald Reagan and Sen. (Richard G.) Lugar did ads for Mutz. Evan and I campaigned all over the state in different directions knowing we had to go whole guns.”
With nearly all of the governor’s staff no older than their 30s, youth seems a constant in the Bayh Administration. Susan Bayh’s secretary, Cathy Clifton, is no exception. Only 23, she’s a political science graduate from Indiana University.
“I volunteered to work for the Bayh campaign for governor and was assigned to Mrs. Bayh last Labor Day. For the next two months, Susan and I drove to all 92 Indiana counties putting over 20,000 miles on the car campaigning for Evan,” Clifton said.
“After the election, Susan said she figured if we were able to spend 14 hours a day for two months cooped up together in a car and got along as well as we did, I should do just fine as her secretary. So, she hired me.”
Career in Law
A tireless worker, Susan Bayh works as a lawyer three days a week, Monday through Wednesday, for the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly. Thursdays through Saturdays, she devotes all her time to making appearances around the state as Indiana’s First Lady, taking care of household matters at the governor’s mansion and serving on committees.
“There’s no conflict of interest,” she said. For Lilly, “I handle all federal issues--checking advertising for product claims, making sure in house people comply with federal regulations, that sort of thing.”
Since January, Bayh has accepted honorary-chair positions for more than 100 charitable and educational organizations. She speaks at luncheons and dinners on her work days. She enjoys speaking to high schools and colleges and this month has delivered a number of commencement addresses.
“My two big projects are raising the level of literacy in Indiana and lowering the high school dropout rate,” she explained. Addressing a high school assembly recently she told students “When your mom says do your homework, it’s not nagging. It’s an act of love. Studying is well worth all the hard work you put into it. Dropouts earn 42% less than high school graduates.”
She encouraged students to spend time with friends who have dropped out of school and urge them to come back. The First Lady of Indiana is working on a public awareness program which will include public service announcements to persuade illiterate adults to learn to read and dropouts to return to school.
Addressing 400 women attending a recent YWCA “Women in the Workplace Program,” she observed: “It’s a shame that the state that gave us the great poet James Whitcomb Riley, the great songwriter Hoagie Carmichael and the great mystery writer Kurt Vonnegut has 400,000 illiterate citizens.
Task of Redecorating
Susan Bayh is having the governor’s mansion repainted and redecorated, and she has commissioned 48 members of Purdue University’s architectural class to re-design the landscaping of the 6 1/2 acres surrounding their official residence.
As for their personal life, Susan Bayh says, “We try to have dinner together at least three nights a week and set aside Sunday as strictly a day of our own. The one bad part is I don’t see my husband as much as I would like. We’re both so busy.”
She drops in “to see what he’s doing” in the Statehouse from time to time and on their fourth anniversary left a pile of Hershey kisses on his desk.
The Bayhs both enjoy jogging, tennis and golf whenever they can find the time, which isn’t very often. They have a staff of 16 at the mansion, including nine officers who provide security for both of them at all times. And there are at least eight formal functions there each month.
“Evan asks me for my opinion about pressing issues,” she said with a smile and twinkle in her blue eyes, adding: “A lot of times I give him unsolicited opinions.”
Evan Bayh’s father was close to the Kennedy family, and several photographs of the late President John F. Kennedy and the late Sen. Robert Kennedy hang on the walls of the governor’s office in the Capitol. Some newspapers have called the young governor, who is 6-foot-3, easy-going, warm and affable, “a Midwestern Jack Kennedy.”
A few days after Bayh’s election, the Chicago Tribune carried an editorial that said in part: “As the Democratic Party struggles to define itself, searching for a candidate and a message to some day regain the White House, some believe the answer might lie in Indiana.”
“He’s the first Democratic governor in Indiana in two decades,” noted Fred Nation, 45, Bayh’s press secretary. “And, he’s the first Indiana governor in 40 years whose party did not control either the House or Senate. All things considered he has done very well so far. Both the governor and his wife are extremely popular.”
“This is a very exciting time for Evan and me,” said Susan Bayh. “I’m really enjoying every moment. There are certain things I miss about California. I miss going to the beach. I miss Southern California weather when it’s freezing in Indiana in winter . . . “