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Shirley Leung

Diane Patrick: A reluctant political wife no more

Democratic presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and his wife, Diane Patrick, rode the campaign bus during the first day of the "Meet the Moment" bus tour.Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — Ask Diane Patrick how long her husband of 35 years has been harboring presidential ambitions and she has a ready answer: “Probably longer than I knew.”

Rumors have swirled for years about Deval Patrick’s aspirations, but it wasn’t until spring 2018 that the former Massachusetts governor began serious conversations about making a bid for the White House. Early on in the process, Diane made it clear that something would be different about this run for office: She wouldn’t play the role of reluctant political wife, as she did during his eight years in the State House.


“Deval wanted to know whether I was going to be all in,” she recalled last week, sitting in her husband’s sky-blue-colored campaign bus as it wound its way through New Hampshire in advance of Tuesday’s primary. “I assured him, not only was I not going to be a reluctant partner, he needed to see me as a partner.”

“This was not going to be him going out on this journey without me," she added. "We were going to do this together.”

But before they could set out on that journey, cancer upended their plans. Diane was diagnosed in November 2018 with two forms of the disease. That December, Deval Patrick announced he was staying out instead of getting in.

“Both of us knew this was not a good time to jump into something as big as the presidential race was,” Diane Patrick said.

“It was scary,” she said of the diagnosis. “You don’t know what you’re going to face.”

Doctors have since given her a clean bill of health, and she is making good on her promise to be by her husband’s side on the campaign trail. He declared his candidacy in November, a year after most other candidates had announced. Whether he’s late or could somehow complete a Hail Mary remains to be seen, but he’ll need Diane Patrick more than ever to help make up for those lost 12 months.


She has focused on New Hampshire and South Carolina, making frequent weekend appearances in living rooms, churches, and at other events as her husband’s surrogate.

Unlike when he was seeking votes to become — and then remain — the governor of Massachusetts, this year she has time: At 68, she is retired from her partnership at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray.

“I bet I have campaigned more in the last two months than I campaigned during the first year and a half of Deval’s [gubernatorial] campaign," she said.

Anyone who knows Diane Patrick can see she is in a far different place than in 2005, when her husband launched an improbable bid for governor — and won. At the time, she was the family’s breadwinner. The couple’s youngest daughter was 16 and still in high school. No way was Diane Patrick going to be the political wife who gave up her career.

When Deval Patrick took office in 2007 as the state’s first Black governor, she suffered a bout of depression brought on by the fishbowl existence and the stress of balancing a high-powered job with a high-profile post as first lady of Massachusetts. She checked herself into McLean Hospital, and the governor even considered stepping down, just months into his term.


Back then, Diane Patrick sought out every news nugget about her husband. The negative headlines gnawed at her.

“I was doing something that hurt me every day,” she said. “The news was like kryptonite.”

Her therapist said she was suffering a recurrence of being in an abusive relationship, before she met Deval.

“I felt I was being battered,” she said of reading criticism of her husband.

Today, she says she has the “tools” to deal with being in the political limelight. She no longer seeks out news about her husband. She is comfortable enough to chat with the media. (When I profiled her in 2015 at the end of her husband’s second term, she declined my request for an interview. )

“As a cancer survivor, she has this fearless strength now to conquer any obstacle in her way,” said a longtime friend, Carol Fulp, former CEO of the Partnership, a nonprofit that works to advance professionals of color.

While Deval Patrick is barely registering in the polls, Fulp said Diane Patrick believes her husband can still become the Democratic nominee. He has been the long shot before — and beaten the odds.

“She’s the first one to tell you when people first thought about Deval’s candidacy as governor, they thought of him as the improbable candidate," Fulp said. “Do not count him out.”

* * *

Diane Patrick was not feeling well in the fall of 2018. Tests, including an ultrasound, revealed a polyp. It turned out to be early stage uterine cancer, and she underwent a hysterectomy.


She wasn’t prepared for a shocking follow-up call from her doctor just before Thanksgiving. The surgery led to the detection of a second cancer in the lining of her uterus, a condition known as serous carcinoma. By the time symptoms are detected, the cancer usually has spread.

“In so many odd ways, I count myself as blessed with having uterine cancer,” she said. “We would not have discovered the other cancer until far too much time had passed.”

She went through radiation treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, and she’s healthy now.

As the Patricks followed the beginnings of the 2020 race from the sidelines, they, like other Democrats, grew increasingly worried about whether any of the candidates could defeat President Trump. After two terms as governor, Deval Patrick had decamped to the private sector to launch a social impact fund at Bain Capital, carving out a new line of business at the Boston private equity firm that was about making money while doing good.

Last fall, he again began to think about running for president. Calls started to come in from supporters in Massachusetts and across the country.

“Can you do this?” Diane Patrick recalled hearing over and over from people who wanted her husband to make a late entry into the race. “That was very compelling.”

What those supporters sensed about the race is exactly how the Patricks felt — the need for a candidate who can carry a progressive agenda and unite the party.


Did she think her husband was crazy? Absolutely not, she said.

“I became increasingly convinced he should jump in,” she said. “If he got in front of the American people, they will see what I’ve seen for a long time.”

Deval’s story is a familiar one to Massachusetts voters: A poor kid from the south side of Chicago went on to embody the American Dream with a scholarship to Milton Academy that brought him to Harvard and into the history books as the Commonwealth’s first Black governor.

“The thing that surprised me is how energized I am and continue to be,” Diane said about campaigning. ”Every time I go somewhere, I feel more compelled to keep going.”

She also is championing her own issues: mental health, early education, and combating domestic violence.

So what will it take for her husband to accomplish the improbable and become the Democratic nominee?

“Just listen," she said. "He is perfectly suited to lead us in a whole different direction.”

Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at