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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Two Presidents With a Shared Sense of Loss

More than most other leaders and peoples, Boris Yeltsin and the Russians will understand why it is a subdued and unhappy President Bill Clinton who arrives in Moscow this week. Some of the joy went out of the White House, and out of his presidency, with the death last week of his mother Virginia Kelley. She was a woman of great warmth and formidable mettle, who loved racehorses and parties and relished the celebrity her son brought her. In the last week of her life, she made a point of flying to Las Vegas, her second-favorite town after Hot Springs, Arkansas, for the much-ballyhooed Barbara Streisand concert.


Born to poor parents in 1923, when Arkansas was one of the poorest and most backward states in the nation, she became a nurse, and was then left pregnant with the future president when her car-salesman husband Billy Blythe died in a car crash. She re-married four times, twice to the same man. He was another car salesman, an alcoholic who beat her until restrained by the teenage Bill, who had taken this new stepfather's surname of Clinton.


"I've told everybody who has asked me about my 'hard life' that everybody's had a hard life. I mean, who hasn't," she said just before her son's election. "But the good outweighs the bad. At least, that's the story of my life."


She found stability and happiness in her fourth marriage in 1982 to Dick Kelley, a retired executive in a food processing company. They lived in a ranch house by a small lake, where she fished from the dock, in a home filled with deep-pile carpets and flocked fabric on the loos.


She loved bright colors, huge earrings, glitz and glamour to go with her spectacular two-tone black and white hair. It is a distinctive Southern taste, a touch of the Elvis culture, whose inheritance can be seen in Clinton's love of extremely loud neckties.


She was an indomitable redneck momma, a warm-hearted and sensual woman with a vast lust for life, and a will to survive and endure the kind of working class epic that wails out from country and western songs on jukeboxes across America. Her life was a classic saga of the poor white American South, except for her extraordinary eldest son.


"Bill held me together, even befor ehe was born," she once recalled. "I wouldn'tallow myself to go to pieces. I was afraid I'd hurt my unborn child if I did."


Although she had to leave the infant Bill with her parents when she left to take a nursing job in New Orleans, she was always very close to her son. She encouraged him to bring his friends home from college for vacations in Hot Springs, loading them down with her high-cholesterol Southern fried cooking, and will be widely mourned by all the vast extended family of the Friends of Bill.


These days, that list of FOBs includes Boris Yeltsin. And one point to remember as the White House press corps pundits muse on the personal chemistry between the U.S. and Russian Presidents, is that Bill Clinton is a true son of the American working class, a Bubba with brains, a Rhodes Scholar who is also at root a redneck.


Boris Yeltsin, who still mourns his own mother's death, will empathize with his American guest by an age-old instinct that links Siberia and Arkansas far more than any formal diplomatic deals between Washington and Moscow.


The chemistry between these two orphan sons of the Russian and American working class will be just fine.