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Originally published Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Grace in public eye put to the test for Spitzer's wife

Silda Wall Spitzer is known to many as a gracious, intelligent woman who made only one major misstep in her life: In 1982, she married a...

Newsday

Silda Wall Spitzer is known to many as a gracious, intelligent woman who made only one major misstep in her life: In 1982, she married a fellow Harvard Law School student. The union lasted just 29 days.

Two years later, she met another student there — Eliot Spitzer.

They married in 1987 and went on to lead lives of success and fortune.

Now Wall's misfortune in her first marriage will be an even smaller footnote in the wake of the New York governor's alleged involvement in a prostitution ring.

Wall, 50, was always a reluctant political wife, in part because she had her own successful career as a corporate lawyer. But by many accounts she loyally joined Spitzer in the governor's wing of the Capitol — where he gave her an office — and served as a trusted aide.

"We talk about virtually everything," Spitzer said last year. "She is a remarkably talented lawyer and smart, inquisitive individual who permits me to clarify my own thinking and also shares her views."

Wall grew up in Concord, N.C., and attended a Baptist women's college in Raleigh. Her parents came up with her first name by shortening the Old German name Serilda — which loosely means "armed warrior woman," although she has half-jokingly said it means "Teutonic war maiden."

She left North Carolina to attend Harvard Law School, and after graduating went into corporate law. She first worked at the high-powered firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where she specialized in mergers, acquisitions and corporate finance.

It was the era of the "poison pill" hostile takeovers. Wall found it exhilarating. She often put in 3,200 hours a year, or an average of more than 60 hours a week. She has recalled all-nighters when she would sleep for an hour underneath a conference-room table because the office lights were kept on permanently.

She later worked as in-house counsel for Chase Manhattan Bank. But by 1994, she put it all aside to care for the couple's three daughters, now all in their teens. Two years later, she created a philanthropic foundation, Children for Children, which is aimed at getting young people involved in community service.

The Spitzers divide their time among Albany, their main residence in Manhattan and a country home in upstate New York.

"I felt very conflicted and emotional about leaving my job," she told an interviewer from Vogue magazine last year. "It was not something I wanted to do, but I have never once doubted that it was the right decision for us. You don't want to give up your dreams, but you also have to confront the reality of your life. Ultimately, it was more important for me to have my family work."

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Shortly before she became first lady, Silda Spitzer told an interviewer she had spoken with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton about how to maintain a private sphere for her family.

That privacy, if it existed, has been shattered.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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