By Betsy Rothstein - 02/11/09 04:26 PM EST
Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) has his own brand of charm.
Inside his sprawling Rayburn office, the Capitol dome beams white through a large picture window. It is a spectacular full-on view of the Capitol, and the 77-year-old, 16-term congressman knows how impressive it is.
Skelton motions to his guest to sit in a turquoise leather armchair to the right of his desk, which he’s perched behind, mentally preparing for an interview about love.
He looks nervous. He shifts his gaze back and forth, from his spokeswoman to his guest, as if to say, “How should we proceed?”
“I have never done this before,” Skelton says of an interview about love.
But it turns out the congressman is something of an expert. Married to the same woman for 44 years, he still speaks with a heavy heart as Susie’s name comes up in conversation. She died in the summer of 2005.
“A remarkable woman,” he says sadly, looking down. “It was the saddest thing that ever happened.
But these days Skelton has much to celebrate. Try his recent engagement to Patty Martin, a school counselor in Lexington, Mo., whom he has known for many years. The congressman also knew Martin’s late husband.
The love story began three Christmases ago, when Skelton asked her to accompany him to a White House Christmas ball. Martin said she was busy. Two days later she phoned and accepted the invitation.
“We got along very, very well,” Skelton says of the evening.
Asked if he danced with Martin at the ball, his eyes widen in surprise. “No,” he replies, opening his mouth but laughing silently for several moments. “I’m not a dancer.”
The congressman took Martin out off and on — “a good number of times,” he says.
When Skelton speaks of her, it’s not necessarily the words that unveil his feelings, but the expressions that come across his face. “It’s just wonderful to have such a good friendship,” he says joyfully, almost like a teenager. “To know her is to love her. She is an absolute delight. Absolutely thoughtful, kind, considerate, good all the way through.”
She also happens to be a good cook. “It helps,” Skelton admits, laughing, announcing that on a recent weekend Martin cooked him beef stroganoff. “I’m very blessed.”
Then, last Aug. 31 — her birthday — he mustered all the courage he had and popped the question over dinner. At dessert time, he recalls, he brought out a diamond solitaire ring and said, “This is your birthday present.”
Martin went silent. “She just looked at me, astounded, and for a few moments said nothing, which I tease her about ever since,” he says. “I think I shocked her.”
His three married sons apparently approve. “Well, they want me to be happy, which is positive,” he says.
Skelton needs no time to respond to how to have a happy, lasting marriage.
“Very simple: just loving your spouse,” he says. “It’s that simple. Being thoughtful, considerate, having fun together, being good friends — being best friends,” he says.
Skelton won’t be able to spend Valentine’s Day with his fiancee, but does plan to send her red roses. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, the congressman is scheduled to travel with a delegation to Guam and South Korea later this week.
The couple does not yet have a date set for their nuptials, “but we will very soon,” Skelton assures. “It’s hard to gather everybody,” he says. “It’s a challenge to meet and have dinner, much less pick a wedding date.”
He looks up. “We’ll get there.”