Hillary Clinton: Partner as Much as Wife

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Friends of Hillary Clinton would have you believe she is an amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa and Oliver Wendell Holmes. She gets up before dawn, even on weekends, and before her first cup of coffee discusses educational reform. She then hops into her fuel-efficient car with her perfectly behaved daughter for a day of good works.

! Fortunately, Hillary Clinton, the latest wife to be challenged to fit perfectly into the ill-defined role of political spouse, is more interesting than that. At her home, Christmas Eve dinner for longtime friends and family was more potluck than Bon Appetit: it consisted of chili and black beans supplemented by leftovers from an official dinner. She plays pinochle and Pictionary with such vigor that friends have to remind her they're only games. She succumbs to yuppie overdoting on her daughter, 11. "There is Chelsea standing on a chair singing Angels We Have Heard on High at the top of her voice, and Hillary runs for a camera," says a friend, Diane Blair, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas.

The former Hillary Rodham grew up in Park Ridge, a Chicago suburb, where her father owned a textile company. She earned every Girl Scout badge, pulled a wagonful of sports equipment to her job at the park every summer, was elected president of her high school class and earned so many honors that her parents recall "being slightly uncomfortable at her graduation." She organized circuses and amateur sports tournaments to raise money for migrant workers. "Mothers in the neighborhood were amazed at how they couldn't get their boys to do much, but Hillary had them all running around," says her mother.

After graduating from Wellesley, Hillary went on to Yale Law School, where she first noticed Clinton holding court in the student lounge trying to convince a group of classmates that they didn't need shots to visit Arkansas. "I remember his boasting that Arkansas has 'the biggest watermelons in the world,' " Hillary says. A few months later, she ran into him again while registering for classes. "He joined me in this long line, and we talked for an hour. When we got to the front of the line, the registrar said, 'Bill, what are you doing here? You already registered.' "

They started dating but were reluctant to get serious because Hillary wanted a big-city law practice while he ached to get back to watermelon country. But soon they were doing everything together, arguing as lead attorneys in a mock trial (they lost) and working in George McGovern's campaign in Texas (they lost again). After graduation they briefly went their separate ways -- he to Arkansas to teach and run for Congress, she to Cambridge, Mass., to begin work at the Children's Defense Fund (she is now chairwoman of its board) and then to Washington to work on the Nixon impeachment inquiry.

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