In an age in which couples rather than individuals are elected to high office, Jane Crosbie may be her husband John’s greatest asset. Friendly, straightforward and possessed of an earthy sense of humor, Jane Crosbie, 52, spent most of last week bouncing across the Ontario countryside in the back of the Crosbie campaign bus, which was outfitted with all the comforts of home—including a gas range and a stereo system. As she has done for all her 30 years of married life, Jane Crosbie was putting first things first— “helping my husband.” Impeccably dressed and unfailingly pleasant, she confidently stroked delegates, cracked
irreverent jokes with them and smiled steadily as her husband endlessly repeated the same hotel room speech. But she is not mere decoration: Jane Crosbie is a curious, spirited woman with views of her own.
Until the current campaign, Jane Crosbie has largely avoided the Ottawa limelight, acting instead—as she puts it—as a “travelling cleaning lady,” trying to keep up both the Crosbie home in St. John’s and their apartment in Ottawa. The prospect of national exposure both intrigues and worries her. So far, her only other brush with national prominence was in 1979 when she criticized then Prime Minister Joe Clark’s strict conflict of interest guidelines— rules that were extended to the spouses of cabinet ministers. She was particularly annoyed when she had to put $3,200 worth of stock in a U.S. company into a blind trust—“it was hardly worth the bother for that pittance,” she de-
dared. When husband John told her that he could not declare his holdings unless she co-operated, she retorted: “Tough! You should have told me that before.” Eventually she disposed of her investment, but not before she haughtily told the media that she was “not anyone’s chattel.”
Jane Crosbie is not a feminist. But she sympathizes with younger women like Maureen McTeer, who are torn between pressures of career and marriage. And after a lifetime behind the scenes Jane Crosbie is taking her own tentative steps toward building an independent image—largely as president of the Parliamentary Spouses Association.
The Crosbies have enjoyed a close and traditional marriage—“although it’s not that we don’t fight and argue,” says Jane. They have three children: Chesley, 29, and Michael, 26, both married and living in Newfoundland, and a daughter, Beth, a 23-year-old postgraduate student now studying at the New Brunswick Crafts School in Fredericton. Jane and John Crosbie first met in 1948, when they were both 17, at a dance in St. John’s. Four years later she, “the local horse-doctor’s daughter,” and he, the scion of the well-known Crosbie clan, were married. She remembers their first date, when John, the only boy in St. John’s with a car, drove her home: “He left me on the veranda and ran like a shot from my father. I think that’s the last time he ever ran from anybody.” The Crosbies relax by playing tennis, fishing and hunting together—and retreating to their country home outside St. John’s for periodic “boil-ups” (New-
foundland cookouts). They do most things together: Jane Crosbie took the same Dale Carnegie speaking course that greatly improved her husband’s rhetorical skills. She was even the valedictorian at the course graduation.
Besides their marriage, the Crosbies draw support from family and friends in St. John’s—an extensive network in both their cases. Jane traces her family back five generations in Newfoundland—and Crosbie comes from one of the most famous clans in the province, which at last count numbered about 125. John’s brother Andrew brought the family fortunes to the brink of ruin last year, as his father and grandfather had
done before him. “The Crosbies have been up and down more times than a dog’s belly in the sun,” says John.
Jane Crosbie displays little anxiety at the prospect of the latest rise. Meanwhile, the old guard in the party would no doubt welcome her as a refreshing improvement over McTeer, whose feminist stance and cool personality irked party reactionaries. Jane Crosbie makes no secret of the fact that she liked Clark—“I fought pitched battles defending him,” she says. And, like McTeer, she will not hesitate to offer her own husband candid political opinions. After an all-candidates debate in Toronto’s Massey Hall recently, John Crosbie called his wife in Ottawa to ask her impression. She was, as usual, forthright: “No matter what the press said, I told him Peter Pocklington came off best of them all.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.