Of all the stunning things that happened at James McGreevey's press conference on August 12, 2004, the most stunning, in the eyes of some, was the behavior of the woman beside him. Dina Matos McGreevey, then 37, stood by her man as he resigned the governorship of New Jersey, confessed to having cheated on her, and announced, "I am a gay American." But if Dina's world was crumbling, she didn't show it. She wore a trim blue St. John suit, a string of pearls, and an inscrutable smile.
Afterward, the uncommonly private first lady disappeared into her life, devoting herself to the care of her 2-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, and returning to her old job as executive director of the Columbus Foundation in Newark.
But now Dina is ready to talk. Nine months after Jim (whom bloggers were already calling Gov. McCreepy) published a tell-all memoir that drew fire for its insensitivity to his family, Dina has published a memoir of her own. In Silent Partner, she writes about growing up in a close-knit Catholic Portuguese-immigrant family, falling in love with Jim, building a life with him, and then watching as that life shattered around her. Gayle King sat down with her to find out more.
Gayle: We talk a lot in this magazine about trusting your gut instincts. In your marriage to Jim McGreevey, did you ignore yours?
Dina: No. I always thought of myself as a good judge of character—people have always told me that—but with Jim I was just totally off. He was charming, he was charismatic, he was always trying to help people. That's the man I fell in love with.
Gayle: Yet so many people suspected he was gay.
Dina: I never heard that.
Dina: No. Actually, one person did say something to me once, but I was like, "What are you talking about?" Because there were also rumors that the two of us weren't living in the same house. ... False things were always being said. That's the nature of politics. So when one person mentioned the gay rumor, I dismissed it. That wasn't the Jim I knew.
Gayle: I've heard people say that you did know, but that you had political ambitions and liked being first lady and so you were willing to go along with it.
Dina: Well, I did like being first lady of New Jersey, but not because of the politics. I hated the politics. I love people. I loved helping people, whether it was raising money for cancer or raising awareness of childhood obesity.
Gayle: Did you believe you had a good marriage?
Dina: Yes. It wasn't a perfect marriage; I don't know if that exists. I wanted him to spend more time with our family. On the other hand, because I didn't know anybody else who was married to a governor, I assumed all governors were away from home as much as Jim was.
Gayle: You were smiling as he gave that resignation speech.
Dina: I did that for myself. For my dignity. I didn't want people to think I was falling apart.
Gayle: Were you?
Dina: I felt like someone was stabbing me. I thought my life was over. I wanted to die.
Gayle: Why did you even go to the press conference? Why not just say, "I'm not going out there to carry on this charade"?
Dina: One, I was in shock. I couldn't think straight. But also, you don't just turn off your feelings overnight. You don't stop loving someone just because he's done something terrible to you.
Gayle: At that moment you were still in love with him?
Dina: I hated him. But I still loved him. And I was considering my daughter. This was her father, and as she grew older I wanted her to know that I had been there for him. I had taken a vow to stick with him in good times and bad, and if ever there was a bad time, this was it.
Gayle: At that point, did you think that your marriage was going to continue?
Gayle: What happened after the press conference? You both went home, right?
Dina: I had no place else to go.
Gayle: And you slept in the same bed with him that night.
Gayle: When I read that in your book, I'm thinking, Oh, Dina! How and why did you do that?
Dina: I don't know. Maybe for my daughter's sake.
Gayle: Your daughter was 2.
Dina: And very perceptive.
Gayle: But she wasn't sleeping in your room. And there were other rooms in the governor's mansion. You could have told Jim, "Look, buddy, I don't care where you sleep, but you're not sleeping in this bed."
Dina: You're right. I wasn't thinking. In a crazy way, I think I felt pity for him. In an instant, he'd just destroyed his entire life's work.
Gayle: He announced his resignation on August 12, but it didn't take effect until November 15. What happened during those months?
Dina: We had to figure out what we were going to do, especially in terms of my daughter, but beyond that there wasn't much communication.
Gayle: Did you get angry? Did you ever confront Jim? "How dare you! How could you? Why did you?" Did you ever have that conversation with him?
Dina: There were confrontations. And I expected him to say he'd made a horrible mistake. And that he was sorry. I wanted him to acknowledge that he had destroyed our lives. He never did.
Gayle: He never said he was sorry?
Dina: He did, but it wasn't heartfelt. Some friends told him that I was upset that he hadn't even apologized, and immediately after that he came to me and said, "For the record, I'm sorry." I wanted to throw him against a wall. But I'm not a confrontational person. I just turned and walked away because I couldn't believe I'd just heard that. I wanted him to be sincere. I wanted him to say, "I know I did a terrible thing. I know you're going through a tough time and I want to help you through this."
Gayle: So who helped you through this?
Dina: Helped me how?
Gayle: Helped you cope. Survive. Stand up.
Dina: My family was very supportive. Knowing my nature, they didn't pry, but I knew they were there if I needed them.
Gayle: What do you mean, didn't pry? They didn't ask you about it?
Dina: No. Ever since I was a kid, my attitude has always been, "If I want you to know something, I'll tell you." I've always believed I can take care of things myself.
Gayle: It's clear from the book that you're a private person. But at one point, you reached out to Hillary Clinton. Why?
Dina: Because the media coverage was so crazy. Reporters were constantly following me. I didn't even want to go to work. I didn't know anyone who had gone through something similar—that kind of humiliation—but then Hillary came to mind. What happened to her marriage was so public.
Gayle: Was she compassionate?
Dina: Very. I said, "How did you get through it?" And she said, "My faith." She also said, "Think of your daughter. And don't let his people make decisions for you. Get your own counsel." Which made sense, because Jim's advisers were obviously looking out for him, not me. Gayle: Tell me about your final day in the governor's mansion.
Dina: Well, there was no goodbye. Jim just pretended it was an ordinary morning. He just walked out like, "Okay, I'll talk to you later."
Gayle: On Oprah's show, after his book came out, he talked about what a great woman you are, and how you prayed together before the press conference.
Dina: Oh, please! That never happened. We never prayed together.
Gayle: Did you watch the show that day?
Dina: Yes. I went home and watched it alone. And if I'd heard him use the word God or godly one more time, I would have thrown something at the TV!
Gayle: What will you one day tell [your daughter] about her father?
Dina: I haven't said anything negative, and I won't. He's her father. At some point, she'll learn what happened.
Gayle: I wouldn't think you'd want her to hear it on the street. What did you tell her when you separated?
Dina: I said, "Mommy and Daddy don't want to live together anymore, but we both love you very much."
Gayle: Are you dating?
Dina: How did I know that question was coming? It's difficult for me to trust anyone. And you can't have a relationship if you're unable to trust.
Gayle: What else was difficult? I'm picturing you going back to work the first day...
Dina: I was ashamed. I couldn't believe that I'd allowed this to happen to me. I mean, yes, I was certainly misled. But at the same time it was hard not to think, "How could I not have known?"
Gayle: Do you think you're a naïve person?
Gayle: But looking back, could there have been signs that you missed? You don't think that about yourself?
Dina: No. Well, in hindsight, when you put it all together, it looks different. But when it's happening one thing at a time, nothing in particular raises a red flag.
Gayle: At what point did you know you'd be all right?
Dina: When God allowed me to wake up the next morning and function. I knew my daughter needed me to get through it—for her sake, and for mine.
Gayle: And why did you write your book?
Dina: Because I was tired of having others tell my story badly. Most people have no clue who I am or what my marriage was like. I am the only person who can speak for me. This book is for anyone who has hit rock bottom. My hope is that people who read it will believe they can crawl out of the hole and survive.