Less than six months after South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford copped to conducting an extramarital affair in a tearful press conference, his estranged wife has formally called it quits. Jenny Sanford, a high-powered investment banker before becoming the Palmetto State's First Lady, announced on Dec. 11 that she was filing for divorce after 20 years of marriage. "This came after many unsuccessful efforts at reconciliation, yet I am still dedicated to keeping the process that lies ahead peaceful for our family," she said in a statement. The split doesn't come as a surprise: the former Lazard bigwig conspicuously declined to stand by her husband while he disclosed his dalliance, rebuked him several times during interviews and moved out of the governor's residence along with the couple's four children. It's a safe bet that plenty more publicity will attend her next move. Sanford, who drew plaudits for her handling of the scandal and whose memoir is slated for publication next spring, was named this month by Barbara Walters as one of 2009's 10 most fascinating people.
Jenny Sullivan was born Sept. 11, 1962, in Winnetka, Ill., an affluent Chicago suburb. She was the second of five children in a prosperous Irish-Catholic family; her grandfather and great-grandfather co-founded the Skil power-tool company, leaving her a fortune in the millions.
Attended a private Catholic girls' school in nearby Lake Forest and then Georgetown University, where she gradated magna cum laude in 1984 with a degree in finance.
Moved to New York City after college and lived there until 1990. Worked for investment bank Lazard (then known as Lazard Frères & Co.), rising to vice president of mergers and acquisitions by age 27.
Met fellow investment banker Mark Sanford at a 1987 beach party in the Hamptons. They married two years later and soon returned to his home state of South Carolina, where he began a real estate business and the family grew to include four sons.
Managed her husband's successful 1994 congressional run (originally from the family's basement) and 2002 race for the South Carolina statehouse. Co-managed his 2006 re-election. Described by a legislative staffer as "the real brains behind the operation."
Learned of her husband's infidelity in January 2009, when she discovered a letter he had sent to his Argentine lover, María Belén Chapur. Her demands that he cut ties with the woman went ignored; she later said revelations of his infamous trip to Argentina in June were like "punches to the gut." In August, she moved out of the governor's mansion with her children to the couple's home on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina.
Emerged as a nationally known figure in the wake of her husband's confession. Launched a website, jennysanford.com, and applied to trademark her name in order to sell branded products such as clothing and mugs.
Her memoir about coping with her husband's affair, Staying True, is set to be released in April 2010.
As South Carolina First Lady, she has championed improving fitness and nutrition in the state. She is active in state nonprofits that are devoted to health and historic preservation. Friends call her warm, though steely and strong-willed. She often cites her strong religious faith as a source of strength.
Many political observers in South Carolina believe she would be successful if she ran for office. "She has moved from promoting [Mark Sanford] as a loyal spouse to using those same talents on behalf of herself," Jack Bass, a humanities professor at College of Charleston, told the New York Times.
On her husband's declaration that Chapur was his soul mate (ABC, Dec. 10, 2009)
"I wouldn't have. If he had asked me, I would have said no."
On her unwillingness to stand by her husband's side during the June press conference in which he admitted the affair (ABC, Dec. 10, 2009)
"He was told in no uncertain terms not to see her. I was hoping he was on the Appalachian Trail. But I was not worried about his safety. I was hoping he was doing some real soul-searching somewhere and was devastated to find out it was Argentina. It's tragic."
In an interview two days after her husband's press conference (AP, June 26, 2009)
"Not only will I survive, I'll thrive."
Remaining defiant, two days after the press conference (New York Times, June 26, 2009)
"While it is not the course I would have hoped for or would choose, I want to take full responsibility for the moral failure that led us to this tragic point. Jenny is a great person and has been a remarkable wife, mother and First Lady."
Mark Sanford, in a statement, reacting to his wife's decision to file for divorce (Dec. 11, 2009)
"He would have never won either of his governor's races without her no way. She ran the show. He pointed the direction he wanted to go, and she was the bulldozer that cleared the path and got him there."
Will Folks, Mark's spokesman from 2001 to 2005, on Jenny's influence (Washington Post, June 29, 2009)
"She is one of those people who is always the smartest person in the room."
Marjory Wentworth, a friend, on Jenny's intelligence (New York Times, June 26, 2009)
"An Old Testament woman with a 170 IQ."
An unidentified Mark Sanford aide (Washington Post, June 29, 2009)