After the Clinton scandals, there’s little about celebrity marriages that surprises Washington anymore. But the tell-all book that has the nation’s capital abuzz these days is another shocker. Their friends knew about Mort’s double life, but to others his was just another success story – a top-notch journalist enjoying a high-profile career including television gigs and a stint as one of Fox’s Beltway Boys.
Mort’s insightful comments about contemporary issues revealed nothing about his views about marriage and family. Certainly, he didn’t talk about his role as the principle caregiver of his wife, Millie, who is incapacitated by Parkinson’s disease. Even Millie thought he’d cast her aside and move on after the diagnosis. Instead, Mort Kondracke is doing the unexpected; when his character, integrity and commitment were on the line, he put Millie first.
In Washington, where nothing thwarts the ambitions of the powerful, it’s the talk of the town. In a nation where marriage doesn’t always mean forever, Mort and Millie’s love story is one that inspires and challenges. Anyone can fall in love. It’s no accomplishment for a young couple to share passionate feelings and to make promises at the beginning of a romance. But to see couples like Mort and Millie endure in the face of the inevitable “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” that’s worthy of admiration. To see a spouse accept responsibility for saving his or her loved one from as many of the indignities and inhumanities of a vicious disease as possible, that’s heroic — and all too rare.
In his book, Saving Millie, Kondracke said that, after the diagnosis, he determined to be a loving husband and help Millie fight the disease. “I decided that my career was now secondary as the purpose of my life. I did not know what helping Milly fight Parkinson’s might involve, and I did not want to know. . . . I was afraid that if I had a forecast of how bad things could become I might shrink from the ordeal. I figured I would simply deal with whatever happened, as it happened. This has become my philosophy of life: do the best you can playing the hand you are dealt, and ask God’s help every single step of the way. Kondracke does not claim to be “born again,” nor does he claim to have a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. But, he has set a standard for himself to be “consistently loving, caring, patient and supportive” of Millie and he meets regularly with a men’s fellowship and considers Jesus’ message of “love, self-sacrifice, and total commitment” to be an “ideal for humanity.” His fellowship friends have formed a support group for him and they have memorized Proverbs 3:5 together — “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all ways, acknowledge Him and he will direct your path.” Kondracke said, “This is gradually becoming my ultimate rule for living, and it’s perfect for my kind of stoicism: I will, I must, play the hand that’s dealt me and trust in God to help me do the right thing.” Mort prays repeatedly throughout the day and reports that he asks God, “What’s my purpose here?” He admits to hoping each time that there will be a new and important mission for him, but the answer, he says, is always, “Take care of Millie.” In the process, Mort says, “I’ve become a different, better person — someone I never expected to be. I have put someone else’s happiness ahead of my own advancement.”
My friend and former colleague, Andrew Ferguson, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Saving Millie, “is one of those uncommon books that manages — quietly, beyond any expectation — to ennoble its author and its readers alike.” Mort and Millie’s story, while honest and powerful, is incredibly painful because it describes a journey toward death and all the accompanying challenges and questions that each of us as human beings potentially face. Mort’s account of their journey is compelling. And in a day when spouses shrink too easily from their roles and abandon their partners, Mort’s commitment to marriage emerges as one of the greatest things to come out of the Beltway.