October 22, 2013
Their husbands are running for governor. And on Nov. 6, one of them will wake up as the next first lady of Virginia.
From different backgrounds and with different interests, Alice Monteiro Cuccinelli, Dorothy McAuliffe and Astrid Sarvis are out stumping for their spouses while helping to hold down the home front.
The role of first lady, a quasi-official position that offers a platform but not a paycheck, will likely have a higher profile following the McDonnell administration. Previous first ladies have created roles that stretch far beyond fussy luncheons and a stellar social calendar.
First lady Maureen McDonnell has spent the past 3½ years promoting Virginia’s wine and tourism industry as well as supporting military families and celebrating the Executive Mansion.
But the first family’s relationship with a wealthy donor, which has led to investigations by state and federal authorities, will likely increase the attention paid to the first lady.
While Sarvis has begun to think about what the next steps would be, neither McAuliffe nor Cuccinelli let on if they have planned for the logistical details should they become first lady, which could include uprooting children and moving to the Executive Mansion, a place that’s half museum, half private home. But they would have a rare opportunity to call attention to causes dear to them.
McAuliffe, wife of Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, talks about the intersection of Virginia’s agricultural industry and the importance of fresh, local food.
Cuccinelli, married to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee, says she wants to serve the disadvantaged and to work on school choice.
Sarvis, a pediatric resident who is married to Libertarian nominee Robert C. Sarvis, is passionate about health literacy.
Astrid Sarvis, 30, was raised in the Mississippi Delta, one of eight children to a mother who she says received some form of public assistance until Sarvis was in medical school.
She wasn’t focused on medicine when she started high school, but credits a chemistry teacher who saw something in her and encouraged her to apply to Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans as a pre-med student.
She says she followed with medical school at the University of Mississippi on a full scholarship. In her fifth year, she studied at Yale University, where she earned a master’s degree in public health.
She’s now wrapping up her residency in pediatrics at a hospital in Fairfax County.
Meanwhile, she married Robert in 2010 and had two children.
And then Robert launched a bid for governor.
Life has moved quickly in the years since she met Robert in Mississippi at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. He was in Mississippi clerking for a federal judge at the time.
Juggling the work/life balance comes up on the campaign trail when she’s out with Robert and the children, she says. Though she says she values her privacy, she says she’s fully behind her husband’s effort.
She recalled meeting a man at a campaign event in a small rural town. The man said he traditionally voted conservatively and his wife “the other direction” and that they finally had a candidate they would both support.
“That sort of hit a place in me that brought it home. And so like Rob, I sort of feel obligated now to these people,” she said in an interview in the hospital where she is doing her residency.
“I didn’t think I’d enjoy it a as much as I have. It’s been real rewarding for all of us.”
On Friday, Sarvis released a video expressing disappointment about her husband’s exclusion from the gubernatorial debate, scheduled for Thursday at Virginia Tech.
She asks debate organizers to reconsider their decision, and asks supporters of other candidates to “hold your candidate to a higher standard and also demand that my husband be in the debate so that your candidate can prove that he is the right and the best man for the job by debating everyone on the ballot.” She appears at times to tear up in the course of the 15-minute video, which she said she filmed on an iPad.
Her passion is health literacy — making sure a patient is able to obtain, process and understand health information that helps the individual make more appropriate health care decisions. If her husband is elected, it’s likely to be a subject she spends time advocating.
“Lack of health literacy has led to a lot of extra expenses in health, and I think if we want to move to a more sustainable health care system, then it’s something that absolutely needs to be addressed,” she said.
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