RICHMOND — Pamela Northam, self-described introvert, imagined a quiet life ahead when she settled down with a soft-spoken pediatrician from Virginia’s rural Eastern Shore.
“I thought I would live in the country and do country pediatrics for the rest of our lives,” said Northam, a pediatric occupational therapist. Instead, she wound up first lady of Virginia.
Northam used what could have been a purely ceremonial post as an opportunity to lead the charge to expand and improve early-childhood education, relentlessly lobbying legislators, chairing the governor’s Children’s Cabinet, and logging some 11,000 miles to make her case across the state.
She also stepped up — quietly, but critically — at a moment of crisis in early 2019, when the governor was nearly driven from office by a blackface scandal. In the anguished hours and days that followed, she was one of the most steadfast advocates for the governor’s sticking it out and turning the episode into an opportunity to double down on the cause of racial equity.
“Everyone has those times when you have to hold each other up and pull each other through,” Pamela Northam said in an interview late last month. She then pivoted to a very different crisis — one that had Virginia’s first couple up at 4 that morning, tending to their ailing 16-year-old lab, Murphy.
“The two of us were trying to hold him up and get him outside. And both of us were crying, I think, at one point this morning,” she said. “I was saying, ‘This is it. This is the end.’ He’s, like, ‘No, no. He’s okay. We’ll give him the medication.’ Th
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