Perhaps it is a love story, this tale of the senator and his bride-to-be. But if so, it is more a mystery than romance novel.
What is known, for sure, is this:
George Mitchell, who is three heartbeats away from the presidency as majority leader of the U.S. Senate, has made three decisions:
He is leaving the Senate.
He is turning down a chance to be on the U.S. Supreme Court.
And he is marrying a woman he met last fall.
Around the time they met, in fact, both George Mitchell and Heather MacLachlan had both reached milestones.
Mitchell, a senator for 15 years, had marked his 60th birthday in August by climbing the highest mountain in Maine. MacLachlan, a sports marketing manager, had turned 35 in January and shortly thereafter told a reporter she was ready to settle down after 15 years on the road.
In most press reports MacLachlan’s identity has been reduced to who she works for--her boss who also happens to be her last boyfriend, tennis manager Ion Tiriac, a colorful character and ex-player from Romania who contrasts with the seemingly colorless senator from Maine.
In Washington, they assume the senator found himself a cupcake--a pretty young thing with a racy past. In the world of tennis, they assume the lady landed herself a big fish--an old guy with money and power.
That doesn’t tell nearly enough.
There’s more to Heather MacLachlan than her last lover and more to George Mitchell than his access to the President. Apparently she and the Senator have a private vision of their lives together that might make him as much a trophy husband as she a trophy wife. MacLachlan is vying to be CEO of women’s tennis as hard as Mitchell is campaigning to be baseball commissioner.
But that’s getting ahead of their game, by quite a bit.
First, there is the life of Heather MacLachlan.
Though she has spent most of her career spoon-feeding sports writers on behalf of her clients, she has refused to take reporters’ calls since the announcement of her engagement.
“She doesn’t want a story about her,” says David Gogal, a Washington consultant who has advised Tiriac on lobbying on Capitol Hill, and as a favor to MacLachlan has agreed to pass out her resume to an overheated press.
According to that sketchy resume, MacLachlan was born Jan. 20, 1959, in Montreal, and has a mother and two brothers who still live there. She has managed athletes--mostly tennis players--and marketed sporting events. She is an “avid sports fan” and “enjoys skiing, skating and swimming. Her interests include music and literature.”
There is no mention of her education. It does not say whether she plays tennis like her fiance--or speaks Romanian.
Interviews with associates, friends and sports writers give a fuller profile of MacLachlan, though most people who say they have known her for years admit they really know very little about her.
The consensus is that MacLachlan is friendly, professional and appealing--but distant.
MacLachlan first turned up in the tennis world in 1980, a sophisticated young woman who spoke English, French, Italian and German and who seemed worldly beyond her years. Her first job was in the small Paris office of the Assn. of Tennis Professionals; later she worked at tennis marketing companies, eventually helping to run the men’s tour in Europe in the early 1980s.
“She was a very attractive woman out there on her own going from tournament to tournament dealing with the tennis media in Europe, the most notorious group of philanderers you can imagine,” recalls one man who worked with her back then and asks to remains anonymous. “Heather had to fend them off and she always handled herself professionally.”
A tall, slim woman with long dark hair that she often wears pulled back, MacLachlan was known by her conservative clothes, often silk tailored suits.
“One writer, I remember, once said to me, ‘Why does Heather always dress like a schoolmarm?’ ” recalls the same man.
Over the years, MacLachlan moved into increasingly responsible jobs in sports marketing until 1986 when she hooked up with Tiriac, an outrageous yet brilliant manager whose greatest accomplishment might have been discovering and nurturing Boris Becker into a world-class tennis player.
MacLachlan, who along the way became Tiriac’s girlfriend, was an essential part of his team, running his office in New York, serving as a go-between for Becker, the media and Tiriac.
“If you wanted to talk to Boris or Ion you went through Heather,” says another sports marketing agent. “Ion cut the deals and Heather carried them out.”
In a 1987 Sports Illustrated profile of Tiriac, MacLachlan was quoted a few times, usually interpreting his behavior or explaining his eccentric habits--as a player his daily breakfast included six steaks, four bowls of pasta and a dozen eggs.
“Ion has become his own aura,” she told SI.
Tiriac, a high liver who says he eats caviar by the handfuls, was also known to eat glass as a party trick, according to NBC tennis commentator Bud Collins, who claims to have actually witnessed such behavior. “He would crunch away,” says Collins.
MacLachlan seemed always to be Tiriac’s stabilizing force. And always, he overshadowed her, say people who were around them.
“When you would get her away from business, Heather could be very funny, witty and loosen up,” says a sports writer who knew MacLachlan pre-Tiriac. “But she wasn’t like that around Ion. She was very cool around him. Very discreet. You’d never know they had a relationship.”
Although their personal relationship ended sometime in 1992, say various friends, MacLachlan still runs his company.
Yet recently she has sought recognition as an agent independent of Tiriac that would vault her out of his shadow.
When Tennis Week listed the 10 most important women in women’s tennis, they excluded MacLachlan--perhaps because most of her work has been in men’s tennis through Tiriac’s company, T-V Enterprises, which has run only a few women’s tournaments.
MacLachlan complained about the omission in a letter to Tennis Week and in the Feb. 10 issue the magazine expanded the list to include MacLachlan.
“I think Heather would have made it without Tiriac in the business world,” says one admirer. “She’s bright and assertive and not just about tennis--but about people and about the world.”
But even that admirer was stunned that she went from a dashing European womanizer like Tiriac to George Mitchell.
A bespectacled lawyer from Waterville, Me., Mitchell has accumulated power in the U.S. Senate quietly, efficiently--and relentlessly. He is now considered President Clinton’s key ally in passing some form of health-care legislation this year. And he is apparently the only glue holding Congress together in that effort these days.
As for his social life, Mitchell is not typical of the Grab-and-Grope Senate Club. (According to one observer, Mitchell tried to pick up a woman last year by engaging her in a conversation about health care.)
Divorced in 1987, Mitchell is said to consider his ex-wife, Sally, his closest friend and when he won the contest for majority leader a year later he said she was the first person he called. He is also extremely close to his grown daughter, Andrea, a social worker, and family--a sister and three brothers--in Maine. During the 1992 Democratic convention in New York he turned down princely accommodations and stayed in an ordinary hotel room so he could afford to pay for his whole family to stay near him.
But Mitchell is not a stay-at-home wallflower.
In fact, long before Republican Mary Matalin and Democrat James Carville were breaking Washington tradition by cross-pollinating, Mitchell was quietly dating Janet Mullins, a high-ranking George Bush aide. Their relationship didn’t make the gossip columns often but many Washington insiders were shocked at the potential betrayal to party affiliations.
In addition to Mullins, Mitchell has dated several other women, often quite younger than him, according to friends. But in all the smarmy, gossipy conversations that circulate in Washington, Mitchell rarely gets smeared. Rather, he is known as a gracious gentleman who can be lively if a topic interests him--though he is not known as the most entertaining politico around.
He apparently met MacLachlan through Tiriac who became active lobbying on Capitol Hill to help Romania get most-favored nation status after the 1989 fall of Nicolae Ceausescu.
Mitchell, a dedicated amateur tennis player, became well-acquainted with Tiriac and last September Tiriac apparently offered to help the senator get tickets to the U.S. Open in New York. In late September Mitchell got in touch with MacLachlan about the tickets and although it is unclear whether they actually met in New York or Washington their relationship began sometime in the early fall.
One version has MacLachlan coming to Washington after the U.S. Open and calling Mitchell when her plans were suddenly canceled. They had dinner and their courtship began. What is known for sure is that on Nov. 23, George Mitchell took MacLachlan to a White House dinner. But how these two wildly busy and traveling professionals--she’s in Europe most of the time--conducted an intense relationship is unclear.
And they’re not talking.
Their liaison has been so discreet that even the President, who Mitchell in effect spurned by walking away from the Senate and a possible Supreme Court nomination, was taken by surprise when he learned of the engagement.
“I am praying for the large-mindedness to forgive George Mitchell for retiring,” Clinton teased at a Democratic Party dinner in Washington on April 23. “I didn’t have it figured out until he announced his engagement . . . This is the method behind his madness.”
But despite convoluted theories of why he’s walking away, Mitchell has repeatedly insisted that marriage and MacLachlan were not behind his decision.
“Maybe he wants to have cocktails at 7 instead of a caucus?” says one longtime political associate. “Maybe he wants to earn money. You know the baseball commissioner gets $1 million?”
(In fact, the politics of baseball these days makes what is business-as-usual in Washington look like student government. Although Mitchell is being pushed for the job, it will remain unclear for awhile if the 28 owners will actually give it to him, according to sources.)
All along, Mitchell has simply said he’s ready for “other challenges.”
At a tribute to him at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel Monday night, Mitchell waxed eloquent about the joys of public life but made it clear he had had it.
“When I entered the Senate 15 years ago, I made the decision that I would not remain in the Senate for life--even if I had the opportunity to do so,” he told a L.A. Times reporter.
“My conception is that one should not serve on a permanent lifetime basis. That it’s healthier for the institution, the society and the individual to have change. And therefore the only question for me was when would the time be appropriate for me to leave. And I decided that this is an appropriate time.”
Appearing relaxed, Mitchell was quite sanguine about the nosing around his personal life.
MacLachlan, on the other hand, told Bud Collins last week that she was upset about being reduced to a stereotype--the bimbo on a stick or a set piece to Mitchell’s career.
No one understands that she and the senator are in love, she told Collins.
“She’s tempted to call a press conference of her own,” says Collins, with a knowing old-timer’s laugh. “But I don’t think so.”