TEN MINUTES from NORMAL
Viking Hardcover, March 2004
Reviewed by Sissy Jacobson
For eighteen months, Karen Hughes was the highest-ranking woman ever to work at the White House. As assistant to President George W. Bush, she was entitled to be addressed as the Honorable Karen Hughes. She was mortified when she realized, “This rank was roughly equivalent to that of a three-star general; my dad had retired after thirty-six years and three wars as a two-star general.” She still doesn’t think her role could possibly approach what her father and other members of the military have done for our country.
She served President George W. Bush in two capacities: “one an advisory role, the other managing the message of the White House, which meant overseeing all its communications functions.” Her previous experiences taught her how to handle the communications aspect, but when it came to the advisory role, she asked the president, “What exactly do you want me to do?”
“His answer was brief, the job was huge: Go to the meetings where major decisions are made. Make sure they’re thinking about it the way I would; let me know what you think.”
Karen Parfitt Hughes, daughter of U.S. Army General Hal Parfitt, (RET), and his wife Pat, was born in American Hospital in Paris, on December 27, 1956. As she grew older, Karen embraced the frequent moves they made due to her father’s career. She “was an extrovert and athlete, a swimmer and a good student who could talk loudly and openly with anyone” Beverly, her younger sister by two years, “was introverted, a musician who sang beautifully and talked little.” Beverly starred in musicals, “while my game efforts to join in singing ‘The Bear Went Over the Mountain’ on car trips resulted in choruses of ‘Karen, don’t sing.”
Because she was born in Paris, Karen had dual citizenship. Her parents taught her she could be anything she wanted to be—except president. Her mother always believed the Constitution prohibits American citizens born in a foreign country from serving as president. As a child she was so upset about this, her parents held a small ceremony when she was eleven where she renounced any ties to France, and was given an American certificate of Citizenship. She states, “It’s ironic that I wound up working at the White House.”
Growing up, Karen talked so much at the dinner table, Beverly didn’t have a chance to say anything, so her mother and father placed an alarm clock on the table, allowing Karen five minutes to speak, then during Beverly’s five minutes, Karen couldn’t say a thing. This taught her to organize her thoughts and conserve her words so she could say as much as possible during her time, a lesson that began her life long preoccupation with choosing just the right words. It serves her well at times when she only has a twenty-second byte on television. Her parents instilled in their children the important values of life and gave them the tools to use them. They were taught to care for their possessions, balance their checkbooks, and fill out their income tax. They were also brought up in church. For Karen, “Faith is a foundation, a set of beliefs upon which my life is grounded and from which all decisions can be based.”
At Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Karen studied journalism, among other subjects. There she learned to further hone her skills in making the most use of her words in the shortest amount of time. “I fell in love with two things during my years at Channel 5—my husband and the political process, and politics came first.”
When Karen married attorney Jerry Hughes, she became an instant mother to his nine-year-old daughter, Leigh. Five years later their son Robert was born. They don’t believe in putting labels on people…Leigh is their daughter (Jerry had custody), and now Leigh’s daughter Lauren is their granddaughter.
After leaving television in order to have more time as a wife and mother, she began what she terms her “part time years” working in various Republican campaigns. According to Karen, she started work with George W. Bush “when the motorcade was only one car, and he was sometimes driving it.” Following that first election, she worked for then-Governor Bush during his six years in office, then his presidential campaign, and, at his request, on to Washington.
TEN MINUTES from NORMAL, is not only the title of the book by Karen Hughes, it appears to be the way she lives her life. I admire her energy, stamina, intelligence, willingness to stand up for what she believes, and her dedication to her country, her family, her “boss,” and her God. Karen gives us some insight into not only her life, but also life in the White House. We see meetings through her eyes, go on the campaign trail with her, and live through 9/11 in Washington, D.C. Because words and writing are her background, this book moves smoothly, rapidly, but with depth, and is so very interesting. If you are looking for a “tell all” book, this is not it. It is a close-up look at a woman who works very hard, and has, according to her, the gift of joy. We also learn something about the beliefs, humanness, and sharp intelligence of our president, George W. Bush.
Karen Hughes has met foreign leaders and visited their countries, “watched from inside the Kremlin as President Bush and President Putin signed an agreement dramatically reducing nuclear weapons.” She has met the pope and had lunch with the queen at Buckingham Palace; “worked on historic speeches about some of the most complex issues of our time…” Yet, after much prayer and consideration, she resigned her position and moved her family back to Austin. At the time of her resignation, President Bush requested that she remain a member of the “team.” She agreed, and now continues to work for him from her home in Austin, with frequent trips back and forth to Washington. She also promised to work for him on his re-election campaign.
Karen is an Elder and a Sunday School teacher in the Presbyterian Church, and a member of a bible study group. During her years in Washington, it helped her to know her church was holding her up in prayer. She is a woman whose priorities are in order: God, family, country. Karen Hughes is a woman I admire.
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