An “Exclusive” Interview with Gloria Deukmejian


From the Long Beach News, Thursday June 20, 1985: 

What Gloria Deukmejian likes most about being California’s First Lady – next to her husband being the governor, of course – is “meeting people and going to places I wouldn’t normally travel to.”

Like the town of Quincy in Plumas County, 140 miles northeast of Sacramento.

Gloria-1There to host a Republican Federated Women’s Club function, Gloria was met at her plane by a woman who had gone to Washington Junior High School in Long Beach with her. The woman had a copy of their junior high yearbook.

“Fortunately,” Gloria Deukmejian says with a smile, “I’d signed by name over my face.”

That’s, the kind humor that punctuates most conversations with Gloria Deukmejian. Asked whether she’ll be campaigning on her own for the governor’s re-election next year (1986), she shoots back:

“If they let me.”

She’s relaxed, candid and gracious.

Interviewed in Long Beach prior to a speaking engagement at the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center Dinner-Dance at the Hyatt Regency, she talks about – among other things – having all of her children home for the summer, christening a new commuter train in the Bay Area and what she misses about Long Beach when in the state capital.

In an elegant pale gray gown that highlights her dark and mirthful eyes, she offers the hors d’oeuvres that the Hyatt has left in her suite and says what Sacramento lacks that Long Beach has is “a beach and ocean air.”

Her friends usually drop by during visits to Sacramento so she keeps in fairly regular contact with them, she says.

Both she and the governor enjoy Sacramento – despite the lack of ocean breeze or, during some days in the summer, any breeze at all. They certainly enjoy the city more now that they have a home there.

“Most people form their opinion of Sacramento while they’re driving through it,” Gloria says. “But we enjoy it. It gives you the feeling that you’re in a rural community.”

Then California Attorney George "Duke" Deukmejian and Gloria at the Deukmejian for Governor headquarters opening in Manahattan Beach, 1982.

Then California Attorney George “Duke” Deukmejian and Gloria at the Deukmejian for Governor headquarters opening in Manahattan Beach, 1982.

For the first year and a half after his November 1982 election, George Deukmejian lived in a motel room and then a downtown Sacramento apartment, commuting to Long Beach on the weekends, much as he did as a state senator from 1968 to 1978.

Although he and Gloria expressed interest in living in the governor’s mansion built during Ronald Reagan’s second term as governor, the Democratic-majority Legislature sold the property. 

The 17-room, $1.3 million home on a bluff above the American River, was unused for eight years during Gov. Jerry Brown’s two terms in office. He called it a “Taj Mahal” and chose to live in a downtown apartment.

In 1984, a home was purchased for the Deukmejians in the suburban Carmichael area of Sacramento using some $400,000 in a fund created by the governor’s political supporters.

Gloria, a former interior design student at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, worked with the decorators in furnishing the house and was surprised that one of the decorators was a fellow student with her at Chouinard.

Comparing it to their Belmont Shore (Long Beach) house, Gloria says the Sacramento residence is “bigger with more backyard.”

The house also has a swimming pool, which Gloria says is being used more by the family now that summer temperatures in Sacramento are in the low 100s.

One of the garages has been converted into a recreation room where the plainclothes police officers that guard the governor and his family can stay, if necessary.

Unknown-3Right now, Gloria says, son George and a friend of his from UC Berkeley are staying in the recreation room while daughter Leslie is home from the University of Colorado working as an intern at KCRA-TV in Sacramento.

Andrea, the youngest of the three children, attends high school in Sacramento and has recently asked if a friend from Long Beach can stay for the month of July.

Gloria laughs, saying:

“And George’s mother is coming up next week so there’ll be seven of us in the house.”

That doesn’t include the Deukmejian’s three beagles: Sniffer, Barry and Pup. Pup, the most recent addition, is the product of Sniffer and Barry.

Barry was found at the animal shelter when Gloria took Andrea and a classmate to record the sound of barking dogs for a school project.

Asked by Andrea while driving to the pound what she would do if there were a beagle available to adopt, Gloria said she’d take it home.

It was an easy promise since she figured the odds were long the shelter would have a beagle. The odds were a lot shorter than she expected.

Gloria recently hosted a tea for the wives of past and present legislators and constitutional officers at her home. She particularly enjoyed spending time with the wives of former legislators who she had known dueing the time Deukmejian was an Assemblyman and senator.

“It was sort of like a reunion,” she says.

The governor and Gloria also annually host members of the Legislature and their spouses at their residence, which, before Brown’s refusal to live in the governor’s mansion, had been a Sacramento tradition.

Weedding Day 1957

Weedding Day 1957

Gloria recalls that at one of the dinners a legislator jokingly asked how she kept people from carrying off the silverware.

“I told him that we had a metal detector at the door. I think he believed me for a little while.”

At the end of the dinner, the same lawmaker paused at the front door and took a salt and pepper shaker from his coat’s outer pocket and then reached inside his coat, tumbling various pieces of silverware into Gloria’s hands while thanking her for a lovely evening.

She took it in stride, the same way she handled the christening – actually the three christenings – of a new commuter train running from San Jose to San Francisco.

She christened the back end of the train in San Jose then, in San Mateo, christened the engine that would pull it into San Francisco and, in San Francisco, participated in a traditional Japanese christening ceremony.

The completed project, a joint venture with Japanese interests, was celebrated with a large barrel of sake which was to be broken open with mallets by Gloria, in ceremonial kimono, and Kirk West, the 6 foot 4 inch cabinet secretary for Business, Transportation and Housing and a representative of the Japanese company.

“The kimono Kirk was given looked like it would fit Leslie,” Gloria laughs.

On the count of three, Gloria recalls, they were to bring the mallets down smartly, shattering the lid. Dutifully, on the count of three, they brought down their mallets. Nothing happened.

The second try was more effective and the lid shattered, showering most of the onlookers with sake.

Within the next two weeks Gloria will be visiting a home for battered women and their children in Orange County.

On the road or at home, Gloria shares what her husband says is his one vice – an unrequited love of ice cream.

When they’re in Belmont Shore they’ll usually walk down Second Street, stopping at McConnell’s, Grandma’s or the Rainbow.

In Sacramento, the two of them will sometimes sneak out without the security detail to Leatherby’s Ice Cream.

There’s no doubt Gloria enjoys her role as First Lady. When asked what she plans on doing after the end of the governor’s expected second term, she jokes:

“Well, what do you think? Maybe we should go three terms.”

When she’s not traveling, Gloria still handles the family’s shopping and cooking. If she and the governor are out, she’ll leave something in in the refrigerator for Andrea or the other children.

12-023-188And although she has a maid who helps with the housework, Gloria is quick to point out that the maid isn’t “live-in.”

She enjoys the dinner and breakfast hour because that’s “really the only time we can all sit down and talk.”

Born and raised in Long Beach, Gloria Saatjian’s parents were immigrants.

Her father worked as a purchasing agent for Texaco and Gloria says, “He became a strong Republican, almost like President Reagan when he switched from being a Democrat.”

She says that she’s always been a Republican but that before her husband’s political career began, “politics was just there. I wasn’t really that active.”

She met her future husband at a large family wedding in San Marino. The two were married the following year. On their first date they went to dinner and a Mitzi Gaynor musical.

Twenty-eight years later, she finds herself balancing her family and the myriad charities she supports as First Lady. She is a member of Assistance League of Long Beach, has worked with the Special Olympics, chairs the state Capitol Christmas Tree program which showcases the talents of developmentally disabled Californians as well as supporting Campfire Girls and the Children’s Home in Sacramento, a refuge for 90 abused and neglected children.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to help different groups in any way I can,” she says with a smile.


Filed under: California History

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