The Apparition of the First Wife
I could write that Jeffrey K. Skilling's first wife, Susan Lowe, was called to the stand this afternoon as a character witness for the accused, but it would be more accurate to say that she materialized in the witness box. She was ghostlike in her mien and manner, tremulous but somehow firm in her quiet and terse answers. She was, frankly, mesmerizing to watch.
Divorced from Skilling in 1997 and since remarried to a stockbroker, Lowe was called against her will, she admitted, by his attorneys. She has been in the courtroom for much of Skilling's defense over the past several days, along with their children and Skilling's current wife, Rebecca Carter, a former secretary to Enron's board.
The two women could not appear more different.
Carter, younger, more glamorous, was known around the Enron family as "Va-Voom." She married Skilling in 2002.
Lowe was married to Skilling for 22 years. She is frequently described as "mousy," but that's not quite right.
Today, she wore a tasteful light pink jacket with a darker pink shirt. Her hair is short, cut in a sort of Pricess Di do, appearing to be a mix of blonde and gray (I guess they used to call it "frosted"). Perched on a thin and graceful neck, Lowe's head made small birdlike movements as she listened to the lawyers. A thin, nervous smile would briefly appear and then just as quickly disappear. Her large eyes seemed attentive and tired at once. At times she seemed to flinch, as if brushed by an imaginary gust of wind.
Lowe was cross-examined by government prosecutor Kathryn Ruemmler, a young, emphatic, athletic power-blonde. And, although Ruemmler tried her best to be soliticious, it seemed her insistent questioning about Lowe's $14 million sale of Enron stock in October 2000 probably looked a little tough to the jury.
Lowe got the Enron stock in her divorce settlement with Skilling, and she testified she didn't know how much she received. She also testified that she and her husband sold the stock because they were "nervous about the stock market," although she said she didn't know that Enron stock was trading near its all-time high about then.
Apparently incredulous, Ruemmler asked Lowe if she knew that, in October 2000, Skilling was chief operating officer of Enron.
"I really didn't pay much attention to Jeff or Enron," Lowe said, prompting laughter. She cringed and said, "Sorry."
Later, after a long string of "did you know?" questions about Skilling and the government investigations, Lowe straightened in the witness box and proclaimed: "You know what? I have to be honest. I did not follow it at all. I really didn't. I was more concerned about taking care of my children."
Ouch. One of the first rules for prosecutors, along with "don't beat up on widows," should be: "Also, don't beat up on first wives of disgraced CEOs who look like they might shatter into a million pieces at any moment, even if they are worth tons of money."
Looking at Skilling and his choice of wives is fascinating. Some successful men who get richer and more powerful "trade up" for a newer or younger model, leaving the mother of their children for someone they believe better ornaments them and their rising world-beater status. That's what it looks like Skilling did.
Skilling and Carter began dating in 1998 when Skilling was shooting upward in the company. There's a terrific throwaway scene in Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities" in which our hero, Master of the Universe stockbroker Sherman McCoy, is walking on a Manhattan sidewalk when a beautiful woman -- she might be a model -- approaches. They give each other an admiring once-over in passing. "What a magnificent pair of creatures we are," Wolfe has the two thinking.
It's hard to think about Skilling and Carter in the late '90s at big, bad, beautiful Enron and not think about that scene.
What's intriguing is that the wraithlike woman who appeared on the witness stand today seems a much better match for Skilling, now that he is a shade of his former self.
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» Va-Va Vooms, Skilling, Enron and Spin..." from "MotherPie
Tossing out the first wife is like tossing the baby out with the bathwater, imho. Read about what WaPo's Frank Ahrens writes about Jeff Skilling's first wife Sue Lowe and Skilling's trade-up wife, Va-Va-Voom Enron fellow-employee Rebecca Carter. Typica... read more »
Tracked on April 24, 2006 06:43 PM
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