The First Ladies First conversation will be remembered mostly for the hysterical stories the five women told, which showcased their humor, warmth and intelligence.
But the Nevada Women’s Legacy event also needs to be remembered for former first lady Dawn Gibbons’ restraint and good taste.
The spontaneous Gibbons had the potential to be a wild card as she sat on a dais with former first ladies Kathy List, Sandy Miller, Dema Guinn and Bonnie Bryan.
Would she dump all over her ex-husband, who humiliated her while she was still first lady, forcing her to live in an apartment outside the Governor’s Mansion while they were estranged but before they divorced?
She couldn’t exactly ignore him (although her biography in the program was the only one to avoid any mention of her husband’s name — a sly dig).
In the past, she had spoken to journalists about the horrors of her marriage to Jim Gibbons, so she has not taken a vow of silence on the subject.
Dawn Gibbons stood by her man on Oct. 13, 2006, helping him fend off accusations by cocktail waitress Chrissy Mazzeo that the gubernatorial candidate had assaulted her in a parking garage weeks before the election.
He won the election but was dogged by more scandals and left with an approval rating below 20 percent. He left a limited legacy. He didn’t raise taxes, and he was the only Nevada governor to divorce while in office.
The GOP governor and former congressman sued his wife for divorce in May 2008. Their ugly divorce was settled in December 2009, avoiding a four-week trial. She alleged he had cheated on her when he was governor.
What would Dawn Gibbons say about him in an unrestrained conversation about being first lady?
On Saturday at Caesars Palace, when asked by newscaster Paula Francis what had prepared the five women for becoming first lady, Gibbons said emphatically, “Nothing had prepared me for what I endured.”
Later she said, “We all know what I went through, me being kind of ousted as first lady.” But she didn’t go into the sordid details.
She was classy not to use this forum to vent against her ex-husband.
Dawn Gibbons wasn’t the only first lady whose marriage broke up.
Kathy List divorced her husband, Bob, in 1988, after his one-term in office from 1979 to 1983. He was caught up in scandalous allegations involving comps from the Stardust while it was under investigation.
When asked the unscripted question: What’s it like to stand by your man when he’s going through a controversial period, Dawn Gibbons answered: “It was the most difficult time of my life.” Then she switched to how she was able to work with the late state Sen. Bill Raggio to get a gay rights bill passed “the governor” didn’t like.
The others ducked that question, unwilling to divulge quite so much.
I had to admire her grace under pressure. She didn’t humiliate him, but she didn’t humiliate herself either.
In a follow-up interview with me Tuesday, Gibbons she said she hadn’t prepared in advance.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, to be honest,” she said. “But I’ve made a habit of not mentioning his name.”
Her life is better now. She lives in Las Vegas working as senior vice president of communications and government affairs for Intermountain West Communications. She’s engaged to Las Vegas businessman Jim Hooban.
Meanwhile, she’s going back to court over pending alimony issues with her ex-husband, who lives in Reno.
Caveat: While she was restrained before the live audience, she admitted she might still write a tell-all book about her life with the ex-governor.
Thus there’s no guarantee her restraint will be permanent. But sometimes even a little restraint is noteworthy.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275.