Jane Weinberger dies at 91; author, publisher and wife of Defense secretary

Jane Weinberger, shown in 1986, had a busy life in Washington as wife of Caspar Weinberger, but she made time to found her own publishing house and write a dozen books.
(Los Angeles Times)

Jane Dalton Weinberger, who coaxed her husband, Caspar W. Weinberger, into politics and was a loyal Washington wife during three Republican administrations before she began to write and publish children’s books, died Sunday at a nursing facility in Bar Harbor, Maine. She was 91.

Jane Weinberger obituary: The obituary of Jane Weinberger in Wednesday’s Section A referred to her daughter, Arlin Weinberger, as a son. —

She had been in poor health for several months before suffering a massive stroke last week, according to her son, Caspar Weinberger Jr.

Weinberger founded Windswept House, named after the family home in Somesville, Maine, in 1984 when her husband was Defense secretary under President Reagan. Over the next two decades, her company published more than 100 titles, mostly for young readers.

Down to earth and occasionally irreverent, Weinberger was the author of a dozen books, including “As Ever” (1991), which was aimed at adults. A compilation of letters she had written to friends and family over the years, it shared what she called “the views of one ordinary woman living a somewhat extraordinary life.”

Those views included pointed opinions on figures such as Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (“makes me sick”), First Lady Nancy Reagan (“irritable and snappish”) and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin (“a wily old bastard but amusing”).

“She was a Maine lady all the way through. She had no airs,” said Caspar Jr. “She was also a very elegant lady who . . . played the Washington scene better than anyone I ever saw.”

Born in Milford, Maine, on March 29, 1918, Weinberger attended the University of Maine and the Somerville Hospital school of nursing. She was teaching nursing when she signed with the government to help in the event of a national emergency.

When the United States entered World War II, she was called to duty.

In the summer of 1942 she was on a troop transport ship bound from San Francisco to Australia when she met Caspar, a Harvard law school graduate and Army second lieutenant, whom she outranked by a couple of weeks.

When they disembarked three weeks later, they got married.

They did not live together until after the war, when they settled in Caspar’s native San Francisco. He was working for a law firm when she suggested that he run for office.

In 1952 he won a seat in the state Assembly and represented the San Francisco area for the next six years.

She took an active role in his campaigns while also raising their two sons.

In addition to Caspar Jr., of Mount Desert, Maine, she is survived by son Arlin, of Marin County, Calif.; a sister, Virginia Garceau, of Brewer, Maine; three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

She accompanied her husband to Washington at the outset of the Nixon administration, when he was asked to head the Federal Trade Commission.

He later served Nixon as director of the Office of Management and Budget and secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, continuing in the latter post under President Ford.

He was Defense secretary for most of Reagan’s two terms, resigning when his wife faced a number of health challenges, including a bout with cancer.

Jane Weinberger made her foray into publishing during her husband’s first term in the Reagan Cabinet, spurred into the business when the president eliminated federal funding for her pet project: the Future Scientists Fund, which matches young scholars with eminent scientists for a summer of study at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

To help keep the program running, she wrote “Vim,” a book about a self-important lab mouse, and donated the sales revenue to the fund.

A subsequent book, called “Kiltie” after the family dog, was a collaboration with her husband, whose photographs illustrate the story.

When the Defense secretary wasn’t tied up at the Pentagon, he sometimes handled other chores, packing, selling, even delivering books for his wife.

She acknowledged him in the author’s note for “Please Buy My Violets,” a 1986 book about charitable fundraising, in which she said she spent part of each year in Washington, D.C., “where her husband works with the government.”