The woman behind the man

Published 9:21 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

The image sticks in many minds: Cornelia Wallace throwing herself over her husband, presidential candidate George C. Wallace, after a would-be assassin took shots at the former Alabama governor, who would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair after the incident.

Cornelia Wallace died Thursday in Sebring, Fla. She was 69.

She was a socially active first lady, known for her personality and good looks.

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Yet, many of us will remember her toughness in the days after the attempt on her husband’s life. Indeed, she took on the mantle of her favorite literary heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, and told the world after the assassination that she and George would “make do.”

And they did.

Sadly, the marriage did not endure. The Wallaces divorced in 1978. She ran a lackluster campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor that same year. After it failed, she moved to Florida to live with her children from a first marriage.

Political scientists across the state generally agree that without Cornelia Wallace’s being a steel magnolia, her husband would have never survived.