Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich met his second wife, Marianne, a Leetonia native, at a political event in Niles in 1980.
After being introduced to each other by then-U.S. Rep. Lyle Williams, the couple hit it off and were married a year later.
Williams, who died in 2008, knew Marianne when he served as a Trumbull County commissioner and she worked for the Trumbull County Planning Commission. Williams met Gingrich when the two started serving in the U.S. House together in 1979.
Things certainly have changed.
Marianne Gingrich told ABC News’ “Nightline” on Thursday that the presidential candidate asked her for an “open marriage” so he could have a mistress, who later became his third wife.
The statement isn’t new as she talked about it in an August 2010 article in Esquire, but with her ex-husband appearing to be the biggest challenge to GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney and with the South Carolina primary Saturday, timing is everything.
In an August 2003 interview with The Vindicator, she said she was shocked when Gingrich called her at her mother’s Leetonia home on Mother’s Day 1999 to tell her that he wanted a divorce and that he was having an affair with a congressional aide.
That came only a few months after doctors told her she had multiple sclerosis.
“I was told that I wasn’t supposed to be under any stress because of my condition,” she said in August 2003. “It wasn’t great timing. It was not an easy divorce. I had a fight on my hands.”
Columbiana County Republican Chairman Dave Johnson, who operates the historic Spread Eagle Tavern in Hanoverton, remembers happier times for the couple.
In the early 1990s, before Gingrich became speaker of the House, the couple would dine and sleep at the restaurant/hotel.
“I found Newt to be engaging, interesting and as brilliant about politics as he is today,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed talking to him about politics. They seemed like a happy, loving couple.”
In December 1994, a month before Gingrich became speaker, Johnson was asked to have a private fundraiser for Gingrich at the tavern that included 24 high-powered, wealthy Republican contributors.
“He was a brilliant orator as he is today,” Johnson said. “It was one of the most spectacular events we ever had.”
The Gingrich couple visited Columbiana County a few times a year during their 19-year marriage.
“He’d be seen all around town” in Leetonia and other nearby communities, Johnson said.
Though he admires Gingrich, Johnson said he is supporting Romney, with whom he’s spent time and initially backed in the 2008 Republican primary.