Yes, she's typically younger than the first. Often she has a career of her own. But her primary job is remaking his life. Sometimes the change he undergoes even results in his becoming a more considerate manager.
Editor’s note: This holiday week, Fortune is publishing some of our favorite stories from our archives. The following article, which was published in our August 28, 1989 issue, focuses on the growing acceptance of divorce among Corporate America’s power elite and the rise of the so-called “trophy wife.” Such second wives, reported Julie Connelly, are often “a decade or two younger than her husband, sometimes several inches taller, beautiful, and very often accomplished.” Most importantly, a second wife “certifies her husband’s status.”
His temper might perhaps be a little soured by finding, like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favor of beauty, he was the husband of a very silly woman; but she knew that this kind of blunder was too common for any sensible man to be lastingly hurt by it.
—Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Any ambitious manager with the top job in his sights used to know better than to ruin his chances with an untimely divorce. From the Duke of Windsor to William Agee, marrying The Woman I Love has made it tough to hang on to The Job I Love. Though half of all American marriages contracted since 1970 will end in divorce, the man who would be king in the business world was expected to remain wed to the princess who floated down the aisle, a white cloud on her father’s arm, the day after graduation.
Not anymore. Gusty change is finally rattling the windows of the nation’s most conservative secular institution, the corporation. Chief executives set the tone for acceptable behavior in their companies, and though the majority are still on their first marriages, a growing minority have discovered serial monogamy. Eugene Jennings, a Michigan State University professor and an expert on managerial life, estimates that in the 1980s, 12% to 15% of CEOs have been divorced, vs. 6% to 8% in the 1960s.
In the corporate world, as in much of the rest of society, it took the roaring Eighties to make divorce fully respectable. As the decade began, Americans inaugurated their first divorced President, a man who somehow managed to convince a nation that he was the embodiment of old-fashioned family values. If the CEO of the United States could shed and rewed, why not the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Says Linda Robinson, 36, who is both the second wife of American Express Chairman James Robinson, 53, and the chief executive of Robinson Lake Lerer & Montgomery, a public relations firm: “How can the board of directors pass over a divorced candidate for CEO? The board consists of other CEOs who are getting divorced too.”
Click to enlarge.
“The change has been radical,” observes Helen Singer Kaplan, 60, a psychiatrist and the second wife of Charles Lazarus, 65, founder and chairman of Toys “R” Us. “There’s no longer a prejudice against divorce and remarriage—almost the reverse. In some cases the man with the old, nice, matronly first wife is looked down on. He’s seen as not keeping up appearances. Why can’t he do better for himself?” (It should be mentioned that in the corporate stratosphere, the phenomenon of divorce still pertains largely to men: The two women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Katharine Graham of the Washington Post Co. and Linda Wachner of Warnaco, are both widows.) Powerful men are beginning to demand trophy wives. “The culture of self-indulgence has just crept up to the CEO level,” says Boston psychologist Harry Levinson, a longtime counselor to top management. “Indulgence is an issue for people who have worked very hard to get where they are. They feel they’ve earned it, they’re entitled to it.”
The Eighties have seen the rise of the celebrity CEO, who owes his fame to his fortune. Management buyouts have made new millionaires and billionaires of people like John Kluge, Ronald Perelman, and Saul Steinberg. “What’s a man going to do with $3 billion?” asks Michael Thomas, the social critic and author of Green Monday and other Wall Street romans à clef. “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you glamorous?” The more money men make, the argument goes, the more self-assured they become, and the easier it is for them to think: I deserve a queen.
Enter the second wife: a decade or two younger than her husband, sometimes several inches taller, beautiful, and very often accomplished. The second wife certifies her husband’s status and, if possible given the material she has to work with, dispels the notion that men peak sexually at age 18. This trophy does not hang on the wall like a moose head—she works. Hard.
For starters, she often has her own business, typically an enterprise serious enough to win respect for her but not so large as to overshadow her husband. Says Audrey Butvay Gruss, “39 and holding,” whose Terme di Saturnia cosmetics company grosses nearly $3 million a year: “My success is not a major financial factor in our marriage.” Her husband, Martin, 46, runs Gruss & Co., a private investment partnership founded by his father, Joseph; the Gruss clan is reportedly worth in excess of $400 million. Carolyne Roehm’s flourishing dress business has revenues of about $10 million. Its sole backer is her husband, Henry Kravis, 45, whose share of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, the leveraged-buyout firm, is reportedly worth at least $300 million.
Says one: “Trying to stay precious is not easy…This stuff gets harder as you get older…”
In addition to her business, there is the time-consuming process of looking good. These women have a finish to their appearance that usually bespeaks facials, religious application of expensive skin creams, and an actress’s skill with the paint box.
They are also thin, the real-life social X-rays Tom Wolfe described in The Bonfire of the Vanities. First wives invariably think their husbands were lured away by hot tomatoes proficient at the kind of sex formerly banned in most states. One look at those desiccated bodies, the knees and elbows sharp enough to puncture a tire, might suggest that sex is the last thing on men’s minds.
If you’ve ever wondered why Carolyne Roehm’s $2,000 evening gowns don’t look the same on your spouse as they do on her, the answer is that she fits every piece of her collection on herself. At 38, Roehm is 5 feet 9¾ inches tall, wears a size 4, and aims for what she calls “the long drink of water” look. As Nancy Brinker, 42, size 10 and 6 feet tall with her boots on, puts it candidly: “Trying to stay precious is not easy. I work out one hour a day at aerobics, I diet rigorously, and I play polo with my husband. This stuff gets harder as you get older, but Norman likes me to look good.” She is the third wife of Norman Brinker, 58, who founded the Steak and Ale and Bennigan’s restaurant chains. He is now CEO of Chili’s, a Dallas-based fast-food outfit that peddles what you’d guess.
The second wife’s most important duty, however, is to help her husband build a new life. Because a man often finds he divorced his friends when he divorced his first wife, the current spouse must fill the void and create a new circle for her husband. For example, Linda Robinson and Laurie Johnson, 37, the second wife of Ross Johnson, 57, the former chairman of RJR Nabisco, talked their husbands into a vacation together four years ago, a ten-day cruise through the Greek islands on a chartered yacht. Carolyne Roehm showed her spouse the treasures of India for nearly two weeks last spring in the company of her friends Oscar de la Renta, the dress designer, and Annette Reed, the daughter of Charles Engelhard, founder of Engelhard Minerals & Chemicals.
Click to enlarge.
In essence, a second wife takes charge of her husband’s life after five o’clock, for unlike their hardworking subordinates, men worth millions often don’t have much to do after five. She totes him to small dinner parties, opera galas, museum benefits, and auctions for worthy causes, having secured the invitations by serving on various committees and getting her husband to cough up something suitable in the way of a donation. Through her fund raising on behalf of PEN, the international writers’ society, Gayfryd Steinberg, 39, has helped improve the reputation of her husband, Saul, 50, the chairman of Reliance Group Holdings. A huge oil painting by Rubens dominates the living room of their Fifth Avenue apartment, and Gayfryd’s chunky mate has become a deep-pocketed pillar of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Few have been as successful at showing their husbands a good time as Susan Gutfreund, 41, the onetime airline stewardess who married John, 59, the CEO of Salomon Inc., eight years ago. The second Mrs. Gutfreund’s extravagance is legendary. Her chauffeur sometimes hand delivers her dinner invitations. Her Paris town house on the rue de Grenelle features an underground parking area that a pal describes as “the most luxurious garage I’ve ever seen—it looks like a ballroom.” Susan’s ability to spend serious money has helped bring the Gutfreunds into the orbit of such people as Jayne Wrightsman, the widow of Charles (who made enough in oil to donate rooms full of French 18th-century furniture to the Metropolitan Museum), and Marie-Héléne de Rothschild, wife of Baron Guy and a mainstay of French café society. John Gutfreund is said to brag—perhaps for the benefit of the IRS—about the international business heavies who frequent his wife’s hôtel particulier, types he probably doesn’t stumble over all that often in the Room at Salomon Brothers.
The part of the second wife’s job that may require the most finesse, though, is convincing the chief executive that he targeted her, rather than the other way around. In reality, the women usually know the men are available—or at least unhappy in their marriages—and they call in as many chits as necessary to arrange discreet introductions. Because a corporate mogul has a lot to lose—respect, credibility—if he is seen with a succession of young dates, an enterprising woman may usually find that the best way to meet him is through friends: Kathryn Wriston, Walter’s wife, introduced Jane Beasley, 37, to her future husband, GE Chairman Jack Welch, 53; the Gutfreunds are said to have met at a party arranged by acquaintances of Susan’s.
Georgette Mosbacher, 41, is an exception in that she has always been surprisingly frank about how she reeled in Robert, 62, the Houston oilman who is now Secretary of Commerce. In the early 1980s the recently divorced Mosbacher was considered the second most eligible man in the world after Prince Rainier—or so it was said in Texas. Having looked him up at the suggestion of a mutual friend, Georgette pursued him vigorously. When Bob tried to cancel dates, she told Texas Monthly magazine, “I’d have to intimidate him.”
While divorce no longer spells trauma for the executive’s career, the breakup of a marriage remains a personal blow, and the big loser is usually the first wife. Her fate is sealed in these four words: She Didn’t Keep Up. The mistake the first wife too often makes is allowing her children to become the focus of her life instead of her husband. In the process she loses touch with him and his concerns. Says one CEO: “My first wife was unsupportive of the demands of my professional life. She thought my day could be divided neatly into 9 to 5 business, 5 to 9 family time, 9 to 11 private time, and then to bed. This is difficult to arrange if you are serious about your career.”
As their husbands rise in the corporation, first wives may become convinced that power is corrupting the presumably wholesome lads they married. “They become self-appointed critics and consciences,” says Manhattan psychiatrist Clifford Sager, who specializes in marital therapy. “They try to cut their husbands down to size.” This was what happened to John Rollwagen, as he told the story to Jan Halper, the author of Quiet Desperation, the Truth About Successful Men. Said Rollwagen, now CEO of Cray Research: “Mary would subtly judge me, usually quite negatively. My former wife was controlling and competitive… She’d say things to me, such as, ‘Don’t think you’ll ever be head of a company.'” Sometimes the woman belittles the man’s accomplishments; other times, the man himself. In the acid words of the angry first wife of a CEO: “I wish husbands would ask themselves if their young wives would have married them if they were not successful and rich.”
Keeping house and raising the kids seem to earn women fewer points in the great world nowadays, and they may begin to ask what they have sacrificed their own potential careers for. But as his wife is waking up, the CEO is wanting out. Typically he has begun asking a few questions of his own. Says Maryanne Vandervelde, an organizational psychologist and author of The Changing Life of the Corporate Wife: “Chief executives got to the top by being single-minded about their careers. But they neglected their emotional growth. Then they hit their 50s and find themselves thinking, ‘Is this all there is?'” When there don’t seem to be any more challenges left, it may be easier to find a new wife than a new job.
The first wife is often the loser when a marriage ends. Her fate is sealed in four words: She didn’t keep up.
Ideally, this would be the time for longtime partners to repair their marriage, but often too much damage has been done. Says Roslyn Bremer, the first wife of Carl Spielvogel, CEO of the Backer Spielvogel Bates Worldwide ad agency: “Carl and I were in love, but our interests changed. He became more interested in cutting a figure in society.” Spielvogel’s second wife, Barbaralee Diamonstein, is an art critic. In most cases the husband has already been tempted by the younger, independent women he finds out in the workplace. It’s a truism that women leave men for other lives, and men leave women for other women. Says a wiser ex-wife: “I should have insisted that he wear a wedding ring.”
When a top executive’s marriage breaks up, the first wife is not exactly left penniless. Says Raoul Lionel Felder, a New York City matrimonial lawyer who usually represents wives in divorce actions: “Let’s say the husband’s net worth is $1 million, figuring the present value of stock options accrued during the marriage, and he makes $500,000 a year. The marriage is ten years old and there are two children. You should aim for a $500,000 settlement, under equitable distribution, and be prepared to take $350,000 for a quick decision. For the wife’s support, I’d settle for $200,000 for ten years.” The lady gets pensioned off, in other words, with at least $2.35 million over time. If the husband is worth $2 million or more, says Felder, “use multiples.”
What the first spouse really loses is the life that went with her position as the boss’s wife—the status, travel, and social life. These were going to be the good years: The children were grown, there was finally plenty of money, and she was free again to be a companion to her husband—only to have another, often younger woman come in and skim it all off. Says one of these young women: “If I had a daughter, I’d tell her never to be a first wife.”
As long as the divorce is not messy, the corporation will ignore it. Ironically, the company may even benefit: To escape the pain of divorce, unattached executives tend to throw themselves into their work. “I’d screwed up my personal life, and I wasn’t going to screw up my job,” says a Midwestern CEO. “I directed all my anxieties and tensions into the job, I went on the road, I poured ten, 12 hours a day into work.” Gradually this effort may taper off as the men start to reorganize their priorities. They may feel they cheated themselves in their first marriage by spending so much of their energies at work, and thus they become more interested in dating and the social activities that lead to remarriage.
Click to enlarge.
Most executives report that they have become better, more thoughtful managers because their marital problems made them conscious of the personal lives of their employees. Faye Crosby, a Smith College psychology professor who has studied the effects of divorce in the corporation, describes a manager who told her he had always assumed that if a subordinate said he had to go to the dentist, that’s what he meant. Then, when the manager was getting his divorce and needed to show up in court, he found himself telling his office that he had dental appointments. Says Crosby: “It never occurred to this man before that people needed privacy for private matters.”
James Fifield, the chief executive of EMI Music Worldwide, believes that as a result of his divorce, “I’m definitely more sensitive to how the demands I put on people affect their families. I tell someone, ‘Take your wife and stay over the weekend in L.A. Then on Monday go where you have to go.’ This way I’m not some ogre driving people into the turf.”
In creating a new life after his marriage founders, the executive must be discreet. Says one astute CEO: “After my divorce I went alone to business dinners where the other men brought their wives. I began bringing my girlfriend only when she became a serious interest and it was obvious that we were going to get married.” Even when they were living together, the man never took his fiancée to overnight business conferences where they might run into his colleagues’ wives.
It can be troublesome, of course, if a CEO on the loose starts an affair with a subordinate. “What people object to is pillow talk,” says Kenneth Olshan, the chairman of the Wells Rich Greene advertising agency. “One person then has access to the CEO that is unusual, and that person’s opinion seems to be more valued.”
This was the experience of Charlotte Moss, 38, who when she was a vice president in the tax investment marketing department at Merrill Lynch began seeing Barry Friedberg, 48, who runs the firm’s investment banking operations. “Barry and I were very open about our relationship, and we kept it out of the office,” she says. “But people were afraid to tell me things because they thought I might tell him.” Shortly before the pair were married in 1985, Moss left Merrill Lynch, went to England with her $75,000 bonus to buy “a truckload of antiques,” and set herself up in Manhattan as a decorator and retailer.
The union that rises from the ashes of the first is very different from its predecessor. The most obvious difference is that this marriage starts at the top in terms of money and power. Carolyne Roehm manages a staff of four at the couple’s apartment in Manhattan and five at their Connecticut weekend home. The two who work in the Southampton summer place also travel with Roehm and Kravis to their Vail, Colorado, ski lodge in winter. It’s axiomatic that first wives shop at Loehmann’s and seconds have charge accounts at Neiman Marcus, firsts stay at home with the kids while seconds have nannies, firsts cook their husband’s business dinners but seconds have the caterers in. “This isn’t the husband’s fault,” says Roslyn Bremer. “The first wife doesn’t feel free to spend money so lavishly, and she doesn’t know how.” Seconds who have been earning their own keep for a while definitely know how.
The money is less important, however, than the power conferred on a woman by her connection to someone who has become a Very Important Man. This is why Bonnie Swearingen, 50-ish, who married the former chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana 20 years ago, gently reproved an interlocutor with: “I didn’t just marry a CEO. I married one of the world’s outstanding business leaders.” And why Esther Ferguson, 46, who is married to James, 63, the former chairman of General Foods, brags, “I’m the only woman in America to have been married to two CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.” Her first husband was G. William Moore, who ran Fieldcrest Mills.
“I don’t see room for children in our life. I just don’t know how you can combine a marriage and kids.”
When she traveled with her second husband, who just retired from General Foods, Ferguson was able to corner the likes of Henry Kissinger and William Simon and get them to serve as directors of her National Dropout Prevention Fund. Nancy Brinker, who started the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research seven years ago in memory of her sister, who died of the disease, admits, “People turned out for our first fund-raising event on the strength of Norman’s name, but I was able to take it from there.” She and several thousand volunteers have raised $5 million so far.
The women are usually careful not to abuse their power, which is why exceptions like Georgette Mosbacher provoke such mixed reactions. The thrice-married, Indiana-born Georgette, tagged the Happy Hoosier by the Washington Post, reportedly crashed an exclusive Washington brunch preceding the annual Kennedy Center Honors Gala last December. She followed this by boldly upstaging Marilyn Quayle, the Vice President’s wife, at an inaugural event.
Second marriages appear to be happy—a real departure from the first—but then why shouldn’t they be? Many of the women have a fast mistake in their past—married at 23 and unmarried at 26—and they are determined not to be divorced again. They’ve seen what went wrong in first marriages, both their own and their husbands’. Not for them losing sight of the main chance: They speak of their men in ways that would bring the blush to the most egomaniacal CEO’s cheek. In the middle of a conversation, Audrey Gruss leaps out of her chair, grabs a photograph of her husband in his polo duds, and kisses it, cooing, “Isn’t he adorable? He is my Prince Charming.”
Betsy Fifield, 34, says firmly: “My husband is my No. 1 priority.” She married record company executive Fifield, 48, in 1984, and quit her job as a vice president at McCann-Erickson 2½ years later because “Jim and I want to be together as much as possible, and I didn’t have much flexibility to do the things I like to do with him.” She has started her own marketing business and gives her husband what she calls one “wife day” a week during which she’ll do errands for him. Nancy Brinker observes, “Men want to be entertained. So I’ll tell Norman stories about what is going on, tidbits from the day, and talk to him about movies and books.” Dinner chez Brinker is often a candlelight affair with no phone interruptions and a low-fat menu that Mrs. B. plans carefully with her cook in order to make it delicious.
Click to enlarge.
“Of course these women feel this way about their husbands,” says Helen Singer Kaplan, the psychiatrist. “I feel that way about mine.” What’s important about a second marriage, she believes, is that it compensate for the pain of the last. She adds, “If a wife was cold or unresponsive, a man will look for her opposite, who is supportive and sexy. I really see happy people; they’ve corrected for past mistakes.”
But even as the second wife gives her husband pride of place, she maintains an independence that eluded many first wives. Charlotte Moss’s decorating business has annual revenues of seven figures and requires several ten-day trips to England each year. Raised in Virginia, Moss took on the traditional housewifely tasks in her first marriage—”I was still so Southern I even cooked”—only to have her husband ask for a divorce after five years of marriage that included four moves for his business. “From that marriage I learned never, ever, to put my well-being totally in the hands of another person,” she says. Linda Robinson feels guilty “that I can’t attend all of Jim’s business functions,” and she feels worse when she’s working almost around the clock for a client and can’t spend the weekend with her husband.
With both careers going gangbusters, what couples spend the most time doing together may be harmonizing their calendars. In the traditional first marriage, the wife serves as social secretary, but one hostess, herself the second wife of a prominent Wall Streeter, was appalled to discover how that nicety has vanished in succeeding marriages. She and her husband were scheduled to dine with another couple and when she called her opposite number the day of the dinner to confirm, the other wife replied, “Well, it’s in my book, but you’d better phone my husband also and confirm it with his secretary.” Says Carolyne Roehm, who spends weeknights out with her husband or entertaining their friends at home: “Henry and I get our wires crossed all the time.” The Robinsons leave the juggling to their respective secretaries, who call each other several times daily to coordinate events as far as a year off. Conflicts go on little slips of paper for the couple to resolve.
The way that a second marriage differs most dramatically from the first, though, can be summed up in one word: children. There usually aren’t any. Says Chérie Burns, the author of Stepmotherhood: “Some men have outgrown their family lives. They want the fantasy life with a beautiful young thing, and they don’t want children messing it up.” Having taken care of his dynastic ambitions with his first wife, the CEO now wants a playmate, someone who is free to travel with him and have fun. The women, for the most part, are terrified that kids would upset the apple cart. Says one: “It’s hard to risk this stress on the marriage.” Another adds forthrightly, “I don’t see room for children in our life. I just don’t know how you can combine a marriage and kids.”
Second wives also find their desire for children affected by the presence of stepchildren. Nearly 15 years ago, when Laura Pomerantz, now 41, married her husband John, 56, chairman of Leslie Fay, the women’s clothing manufacturer, they already had three girls, ages 9, 7, and 5, from their previous marriages. “I wanted more children, but John didn’t,” Laura says. “Now we’re both sorry.” Initially they were uneasy about how a new baby would affect their children as they worked to unify the family. As time went by and the girls adapted, the parents found themselves reluctant to disturb the balance when everyone seemed so happy.
The sad fact for most men is that divorce and remarriage fray the ties to their children. Says Robert Weiss, a research professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, who is studying achieving men: “In the process of leaving their first families, men believe they can make it up to the kids in quality time. Then they discover it is extraordinarily difficult. So much of being a good father is being on the scene.”
Having pots of money may ease the burden of not being there because the CEO can afford to fly the kids out to see him and go on exciting vacations with them. But too many men made the mistake of allowing their first wives to “take care” of the relationship with the children while they concentrate on getting ahead. When the couples part, the men find they have no connection to their children.
“The social invitations don’t come so quickly. The wives of my husband’s friends thought I was a threat.”
Listen to one remarried father who now lives about a thousand miles away from his daughters: “It’s not that I didn’t care about the kids, but I was not like typical fathers. I couldn’t be at the softball game because I had to be in London. My first wife had to make it clear that I had this important job—it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with them. I was not going to divorce myself from the kids, but it was naive of me to think I’d have the same relationship as I had before the divorce. It’s another price you pay. You hope for some relationship with your first wife as it affects the children, but it just doesn’t work out that way. Animosity and friction are always there, even if she remarries. You just don’t have the relationship with the kids you’d have if you lived there.”
The stepmother’s relations with kids whom she usually sees for a few weeks in summer and one or two weekends a month are a bit delicate. Says Carolyne Roehm of her three stepchildren: “I’m here for them if they need my help, but I’m not trying to replace a parent in their lives.” Occasionally a stepmother will take an active role in ensuring that her husband maintains ties with his progeny. Laurie Johnson gave her husband’s son a diamond and tourmaline ring that Ross had given her on their first Valentine’s Day. The boy was getting engaged and wanted a jewel to present on the spot. “I told both Ross’s boys that I had rings for them,” Johnson says. “This family needs tradition.”
It’s easy to resent the second wife as an interloper, and she certainly garners her share of ill will. “Those first wives, boy they really stick together and support the one who was left,” complains a second. Says Beliza Ann Furman, a second wife who is the founder of Wives of Older Men, an organization for women who are at least eight years younger than their husbands: “The social invitations don’t come so quickly. The wives of my husband’s friends thought I was a threat.”
When Laurie Johnson was first married to Ross, then the CEO of Standard Brands, she was 26 and very anxious to please. “I’m sure a lot of people didn’t like me,” she says. “Those women could be backstabbing. We’d be invited to a party and the hostess would tell me it was casual, and then everybody would show up dressed to the nines. I’d come in blue jeans or something and feel like a jerk.”
But the time comes when the second wife does have to pay her dues. He retires, or loses his job, as Ross Johnson did. She’s still going strong when he just wants to play golf. She may enjoy it at first. “In the beginning after Ross left RJR, we went to the movies a lot,” says Laurie. “We never went to the movies in the first ten years we were married.” But after a while it can become a drag.
Even for him. The Canadian-born Johnson is on eight boards, and in May he opened an international management consulting firm in Atlanta called RJM Group, which employs six people. Laurie, who worked only briefly during her marriage, is the vice president for administration and finance. “We have an office. Ross can go to work, so he’s not staying home and invading my time,” she says. “I was afraid people would drop us, but right after Ross left RJR we were invited to the Canadian Prime Minister’s 50th birthday party.”
Serious retirement can be an eye-opener, though. It’s particularly tough on the executive whose personality erodes with his power base. One second wife was overheard complaining, “After my husband stopped being CEO and didn’t have the company plane anymore, he just wasn’t the same person.”
A spouse can’t help but suffer from her husband’s loss of status. Observes Jane Ylvisaker, 43, whose husband, Bill, 65, retired from Gould Inc. in 1986 to start a venture capital firm: “Some people seem to be devastated when they lose the chauffeur, the company flat, the private plane. A lot of others change their attitude toward you—it’s noticeable certainly. Even though you thought you knew them for what they were, it can be a great shock when they don’t pay attention to you.” Adds Bonnie Swearingen: “Retirement is bittersweet. When we had to give up traveling by private plane and join the rest of humanity in airports, I was spoiled to the point that I don’t like to travel anymore.”
And retirement may be just the start. What happens when life in the fast lane starts pulling over to a slower track in deference to Harry’s pacemaker? True, this may not happen for a while: “My husband has a heart rate of 51. Mine is 98 or so,” exclaims the youngish wife of a 53-year-old. “He’s so physically fit—he’s got more energy than I do, and I’ve got a lot.” Ah, but when she faces the prospect of pushing him around in a wheelchair, what’s to prevent her from leaving him? A prenuptial agreement, limiting what she might get in a settlement? Perhaps—most second wives sign them. What it comes down to finally may be love, love sufficient to withstand the “for worse” now that she’s had the “for better.”
Reporter Associate: Darienne L. Dennis
This article was originally published in the August 28, 1989 issue of Fortune.