- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

PALM BEACH, Fla. - Nancy Moore Thurmond is a mother, grandmother, author, former beauty queen and widow of a political legend.

But, she told guests last month at the annual luncheon for the Comprehensive Alcoholism Rehabilitation Programs (CARP), she’s no role model.

“My name is Nancy, and I’m an alcoholic,” she told a sold-out crowd at the Ritz-Carlton. “I don’t hold myself up as a role model because the whole precept of [Alcoholics Anonymous] is just one drunk helping another drunk.

“I’m not a member with 30 years of sobriety. I’m no shining example. I’m just like every other man and woman who is an alcoholic, who struggles with this disease and the scarlet ‘A’ of addiction, trying to stay sober one day at a time.”

Mrs. Thurmond confessed to a distaste for public speaking, although she said the CARP crowd made her feel “like family.”

“And speaking of which,” she said, referring to last year’s revelation that her husband sired a child by the family maid, “If there are any other children of Strom Thurmond here, please stand up. I’d like to meet you.”

Her marriage to the senior senator from South Carolina taught her that “politics makes strange bedfellows,” she said. “I once heard an Ohio congressman say he and his wife, Hazel, had been happily married for 26 years. Of course, Hazel was back home in Ohio for 24 of those years.”

Nancy Moore met the much-older Strom Thurmond at a country festival when she was 17 and a freshman at Duke University. The former Miss South Carolina and the senator were married for 36 years.

“When somebody asked him why he married a woman so much younger, he said, ‘In my old age I’d rather smell perfume than liniment,’” Mrs. Thurmond said.

“We had a wonderful marriage,” she said. “But I look at my addictive behavior and realize that I went from the control of my parents to the control of my husband to the control of alcohol. I was a quiet drunk. I drank alone at home.”

Her first drink, at age 22, immediately made her physically ill.

“That should have been a warning to me that I was allergic to alcohol,” she said. “But no. I remember going to Senate wives’ meetings and some of these women who were so, so frail from alcohol and prescription-drug abuse, and I felt sorry for them. Little did I know that I would turn out to be worse off than they were. But I never knew how to ask for help.”

Alcohol is “the oldest, most popular legal drug,” Mrs. Thurmond said. “Drunk driving is the most frequently committed violent crime. By the time I finish speaking and sit down, somebody else will be dead from a drunk-driving accident.”

Mrs. Thurmond knows this statistic firsthand.

“My oldest daughter, Nancy, died three weeks before her college graduation. She was crossing the street and was hit by a drunk driver,” Mrs. Thurmond said. “And you know what? I could not feel any anger for the woman who killed her. She made a tragic mistake. It could have been me but for the grace of God.”

Alcoholism is on the rise, she said, especially among the young.

“Alcoholism knows no class or economic distinction,” she said. “It doesn’t discriminate. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. One drink is too many. A thousand is not enough.”

Mrs. Thurmond also offered some personal recollections of presidents and near-presidents:

• Former Sen. Bob Dole, Kansas Republican: “Bob admired Strom for his physical fitness regimen. He said, ‘When Strom Thurmond eats a banana, I eat a banana. When Strom Thurmond puts STP in his prune juice, I put STP in my prune juice.’”

• Former President Bill Clinton: “Strom and I and our drop-dead gorgeous daughter, Julie, were the Clintons’ guests at the White House, when I looked up and saw that Julie was having a very pleasant conversation with Bill Clinton — maybe a little too pleasant. I actually thought to myself, ‘Thank God for Monica Lewinsky.’”

• Former President Richard Nixon: “During Watergate, Strom had been extremely loyal to his commander in chief. One night the phone rang. It was Richard Nixon and, in this sad, sad voice, he said, ‘Strom, I am so sorry I let you down.’ The next day he resigned.”

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