Shadows parted, she plans quieter campaign

Diane Patrick talks of the depression that overtook her, and her road back

By Sarah Schweitzer
Globe Staff / July 11, 2010

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The women at Peoples Baptist Church of Boston listen intently after lunch, plates of petite pastries untouched, as Diane Patrick tells them of the feelings that crashed over her after her husband ascended to the governor’s office — dismay at suggestions she would quit her job at a high-powered law firm, anxiety at the unrelenting public scrutiny, and, ultimately, the terrifying sensation that her identity was being sucked away as she tried to fill a new, uncomfortable role.

The debilitating depression that came over her as a result, she says, taught her that she cannot lose herself in the whirl of expectations and obligations of being the governor’s wife.

As she closes her remarks, her voice drops, and her audience leans in.

“I feel you at my back, and more than anything else, that is what I need,’’ she says. “You’re not going to let me fall, and I can’t tell you how blessed I am for that.’’

As Deval Patrick runs for reelection this year, Diane Patrick’s personal message is starkly different than four years ago, when she was a major presence on the campaign trail and vowed to work alongside her husband to advance his political agenda. Playing a smaller part this time, she is telling audiences she will focus more on her interests and plans to use the narrative of her depression to convey that, though she may be married to the state’s most powerful figure, she struggles just as they do to balance her own goals with her husband’s.

“I needed the time to step away and to learn how to be who I was,’’ Patrick said in an interview on the patio of her Milton home. “And part of that education was learning how to set boundaries, learning how to say no, learning how to prioritize, and learning how to take care of myself and Deval and not feeding all the people at the trough.’’

Despite a degree of public candor about her ordeal, Patrick draws a tight curtain around the spring of 2007 when she was overcome, requiring what she later described as “medical attention’’ and prompting her husband to reduce his State House schedule to be with her. She declined to speak in detail about the form her treatment took, or about the events that led her to believe she needed help.

As her husband’s campaign ramps up, she plans to help as she can, but not reduce her commitments at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray LLP, where she is a partner, as she did for the first campaign. She’s carefully looking over suggested public appearances — including those requested by her husband (Does he need her there, she asks him, or want her there?) In the last campaign, she had a desk at headquarters; her role this time around will be crafted as the campaign plays out.

Still, she is girding herself. The media’s scrutiny of her husband and family was among the hardest things to handle in the 2006 campaign, the stuff of sleepless nights for Patrick.

“I took it very, very personally,’’ she said.

In recent years, she has sought the advice of Vicki Kennedy and Angela Menino in dealing with the relentless spotlight.

“Both of them said, ‘You’ll get through it. . . . You won’t learn to love it but you will learn to deal with it.’ ’’

Has she?

“When you love someone as much as I know and love the governor, when someone criticizes him or suggests that he is careless or clueless, I take that very personally because that is not who he is. But I have learned to keep it in the balance.’’

Patrick’s days begin early and end late. At Ropes & Gray, she advises universities and health care organizations on compliance with labor and employment laws, work that frequently takes her on the road. Nights when she is not traveling are given over to duties of her choosing.

Had their daughters — Katherine, a junior at Smith College, and Sarah, a New York University graduate now planning on getting a teaching certificate — been younger, she says, juggling the demands would probably have been impossible.

One of Patrick’s chief policy interests is education; before law school, Patrick was a teacher, like her mother before her.

Another is domestic violence, a deeply personal topic for her. She describes her first marriage as horrific, one in which her husband made her fear what might happen if she left him.

It was during her first marriage that she said she suffered her only other bout of depression. She experienced flashbacks to that sense of powerlessness during the 2006 campaign.

“I would read about myself in the paper, and it didn’t feel like it was me. I read about Deval in the paper, and it didn’t seem to always fairly portray who he was,’’ she said. “I was being defined by somebody else.’’

She recounted a day when she was in California negotiating a collective bargaining agreement when she received a phone call from a campaign staffer saying that a media outlet was investigating whether she and her husband had defaulted on a mortgage.

“So I travel back to Boston, six hours, anxiety-ridden about this. I come home and spend hours — and thank goodness I am a pack rat. I pulled out every canceled check . . . I found every payment, including the one that was marked final . . . And that was the end of it. But do you know how much that ate away at me?’’

The campaign’s end did not relieve the stress. Just after the win, she and her husband traveled to West Virginia for “governors’ school,’’ where he learned about budgets and legislation and received advice about how to manage a mansion staff and dress for an interview. She was advised that keeping her job would be impossible.

“I said well, I didn’t have any intention of leaving my law practice and they said — all of the sitting governor’s wives — ‘We’ll see how long that lasts.’ ’’

Her older sister, Lynn Prime, an educator in Georgia, said Patrick called her immediately after the session.

“It never occurred to her to give up her career or play tea party host,’’ Prime said.

Several weeks later came the contretemps over the hiring of a $72,000-a-year chief of staff for her, a position she says others had recommended at governors’ school.

“I thought: OK . . . I want to do what is expected of me as first lady and everybody has a staff, and I especially need a staff because I am not going to give up my practice.’’

Howls of protest erupted. At the same time, Deval Patrick was under fire for leasing a Cadillac, redecorating his office with expensive furniture and draperies, and making a call to a bank on behalf of a controversial lender.

“[I] could feel it building. The level of anxiety. The level of not feeling like anything makes you happy. Feeling as though everything becomes more stressful. Every moment becomes harder to get through.’’

On March 10 of that first year in office, the governor’s office issued a media advisory saying the she was being treated for depression and exhaustion.

Patrick was reluctant to go public with the depression. But she says there was no alternative.

“If I had disappeared and we had not said anything, the speculation would have been worse,’’ she said. “People would have filled in the silence.’’

Patrick spent a month at home. She sought professional help and was prescribed medication. She returned to work, had her first public appearance in April 2007 and then, in March 2008, made her first extensive comments on her depression before the Women’s Network of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Now, she is venturing back onto the campaign trail.

“A year ago . . . after very difficult personal moments for me — some very difficult moments that I had to live through publicly though the press — I could not have imagined taking to the streets again,’’ she tells the women of Peoples Baptist Church.

“But here I am and I am here proudly. Sometimes I wonder how it is I got here and why I am standing here. But when I do, all I have to do is remind myself: This is all part of God’s plan.’’

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at

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