INSIGHTS | Walker Stapleton, from his wife's point of view


At a campaign event at the Republican Party’s Victory Office in Greenwood Village a few weeks ago, Walker Stapleton literally hugged two of his three kids around him as he told the packed house about a Colorado future he wants to create for his kids and theirs when he’s elected governor.

His wife, Jenna, stood off 12 feet to the right of the limelight, a big and genuine smile on her face.

She has a vantage point on the Republican nominee for governor, the presidential Bush family and state politics from her New Englander’s point of view that no one else in Colorado shares. She was kind enough to meet me for coffee near the University of Denver on a weekday morning to discuss it.

I had hoped to offer two Insights, one each on the spouses of the men running for governor, to find out what they know that we couldn’t learn from anyone else. Jenna Stapleton was a quick yes. Marlon Reis, the partner of Democrat Jared Polis, isn’t comfortable talking to reporters, the campaign said.

The spousal campaigning thing has come up before. On primary night, when Polis beat three challengers, Colorado Independent reporter Alex Burness tweeted, “I just introduced myself to Jared Polis’s husband, Marlon Reis, and asked if he had a second for an interview. Reis is in a great mood, understandably, and he said yes. Before I could finish my first question, Polis swooped in and shut it down. “He’s not doing any media. Sorry.”

By contrast, a long coffee chat with Jenna Stapleton made me wonder if the wrong Stapleton is on the ballot.

If you don’t know her, then imagine your favorite neighbor. She’s smart and funny, a good storyteller who’s also a good listener. If you needed a cup of sugar, she’d probably bake you a cake instead.

From south of Boston, she was 29 when she met her future husband in 2004. She had worked for eight years after college in Manhattan in magazine marketing for People, Smart Money and Harper’s Bizarre. She lived in Hell’s Kitchen and walked to work.

“It was actually love at first sight,” she said, before telling the story.

Walker was returning from London on business and had a layover in New York. He was catching up with some business school pals at the White Horse Tavern, a famous dive bar in the West Village. She was out with friends for a drink after work. One of Walker’s three friends seemed interested in one of Jenna’s three friends and the groups meshed.

What was Walker’s opening line? He offered to buy her a drink for a piece of the gum she had.

She never showed up for a date with someone else she had scheduled for later that night. Then Walker missed their first date because he told her his phone died. She gave him another chance.

He proposed a year later while his immediate family was staying at the Bush family compound on Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine. (Walker is a second cousin of former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.)

The deal went down like this. The couple took a walk, about a mile, to St. Ann’s Church. He hired a lobster boat to come by with a banner that said, “Marry me, Jenna.” His immediate family helped him pull it off. (The former presidents in the family weren’t around.)

“Hey, look at that boat,” Walker said as the lobster boat lurched past. His sister and brother-in-law were on the deck holding up the banner. After she said yes, he gave her a four-page letter about how he felt that included four tickets to a Boston Red Sox game for them and her parents. He had asked for her hand from her father in advance.

They were married at St. Ann’s 12 years ago on Aug. 26.

“They are just a really close family, very close,” she said of the Stapletons, a historic family in Colorado, putting down her coffee cup. “Walker is very close to his grandmother, who is going to be 99 and lives downtown in a home.”

Sense of humor defines and binds them. “Walker is hilarious. His grandmother is, his dad,” Jenna said. She said it’s a very dry, very intellectual sense of humor. On the other hand, a few days earlier he randomly started dancing in his boxer shorts to a song on the radio. His kids squealed with laughter to egg him on, Jenna recalled. (I’ve seen his steps. He’s not a good dancer.)

Walker keeps friends from over the course of his entire life, his wife said, because he’s generous with his attention to relationships.

“He’s the one they all call when they’re in trouble, or they need somebody to lean on,” she said. “Poor Walker. He’s running for governor, he’s the state treasurer, he has three kids and a new puppy, and he’s the one usually trying to help somebody work through something. It’s because he’s a problem-solver,”

Walker does most of the cooking for the family and he brings his wife flowers for special events but sometimes randomly from the grocery store. Jenna is the family authority figure and especially its disciplinarian, she said.

“He’s the softy,” she said. “He only gets called in if it’s really something. He usually just says, ‘Whatever your mom says.'”

Her husband has an even temper and tons of patience. “He has a very long fuse, which is great for parenting, because nothing ruffles him when it comes to the kids.”

He reads to the kids all the time. His favorite book is “The Clown of God,” and it puts tears in his eyes, his wife said, and wondered aloud if she should be telling that.

In the book, a homeless Italian boy named Giovanni makes himself a skilled juggler and performs before the statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in his village. He becomes famous and celebrated but grows old and returns to the village a beggar.

In the end he finds redemption in knowing he gave the best he had, his ability to juggle, to please God.