By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Until about 15 years ago, Jennie Gordon was too busy with her own career and raising a family to pay too much attention to politics.
But when husband Mark began his foray into elected office in their hometown of Buffalo, Jennie and their four children supported him wholeheartedly.
Now, after four years in Cheyenne as the First Lady, Jennie Gordon told Cowboy State Daily that while she didn’t really have a preconceived notion as to what her life would look like as the spouse of the governor of Wyoming, “it certainly is, I would say, one of the most challenging but also one of the most fulfilling things that I have done.”
Career And Children
Jennie moved to Buffalo at the age of 18, a place her father – a Senior Master Sergeant in the Air Force – loved to vacation.
“He would come every year to Buffalo in the summer for a month,” she recalled. “And when you have 10 kids and not a lot of money, you can go camping in the Bighorns, provided you move every two weeks.”
When she graduated high school, Jennie’s dad decided to move to Buffalo permanently, and she said she’d come for a summer to help him build his house.
“That was 1980, and was the longest summer of my life, I guess – because I never left,” she said.
Jennie went on to graduate from the University of Wyoming in 1985 with a degree in medical technology, moving back home to Buffalo and working at the hospital in Sheridan for the next 15 years.
“I was that person who wakes you up in the morning and says, ‘Good morning! Going to get a little blood from you,’” Jennie said.
In 1998, she chose to step away from the hospital environment and became a service technician for medical device company Abbott Laboratories, traveling the region repairing lab equipment. She later moved into a sales position, but found that wasn’t a job she enjoyed as much.
“I like to solve problems, not try to sell things,” she said.
Jennie married Mark, a Buffalo rancher, in 2000, and two years later went to work for the ranch – and that was about the time Mark started making a move into local politics.
“Mark was on some of the boards – the school board, the conservation district – just trying to help out our community,” said Jennie.
When Mark was elected state treasurer in 2012, Jennie took over management of the Merlin Ranch, only giving up that role when her husband was elected governor in 2018 and the two took up permanent residence in Cheyenne.
Mark and Jennie’s four children are grown now – Anne is in New York; Aaron is in Bozeman, MT; Bea with husband Austen and son Crawford are in Reno, NV; and Spencer, his wife Sarah, their son Everett, and twin daughters Violet and Eloise are right there in Cheyenne.
“We’re kind of spread out a little bit,” she said. “But some of them were here for Thanksgiving, and we’ll get together at Christmas.”
In her daily life, though, Jennie makes sure there’s plenty of time for her grandchildren (“The highlight of my life – but don’t tell their parents that!”). She spends a couple of days each week watching Spencer and Sarah’s children.
“I try to take my grandson one day a week, and then the twins I try to take one day a week,” Jennie said. “If I took all three of them on the same day, my head would actually explode.”
Jennie travels the state frequently, visiting food pantries and youth clubs in her role as First Lady. But that means that she and her husband don’t often get to travel together.
“If he’s going somewhere and I can tag along, I try to do that,” she said.
All About the Kids
In her role as Wyoming’s First Lady, Jennie has been able to choose projects or issues she can bring attention to. And it has been her joy, she said, to spend as much time with children as she can.
“This morning I went down to a grade school and read a Christmas story to 350 kids,” she said. “Just to see, especially the younger kids, their eyes aglow thinking about Christmas and about Santa.”
Jennie said that since becoming First Lady, she has focused her attention on five areas – family, friends, the military, the agricultural community, and children. Her primary project is The Hunger Initiative, an agency that supports existing programs around the state that fight food insecurity.
She also gets regular requests from organizations around the state to speak about those issues.
“Recently I went to the Foster Family Christmas party,” she said. “It was amazing to see the people who are helping the kiddos in our state that are in a hard place – and there’s people picking up the pieces.”
And with her husband’s re-election, Jennie said she’ll be able to further bring attention to the plight of foster kids.
“They just need to have someone help put a spotlight on it,” she said. “And I think that’s what the First Lady’s office does – I’ve heard it termed as pixie dust, we just sprinkle a little on it.”
The Hardest Part
For Gordon, the most difficult aspect of being the governor’s wife has been standing by while others tear her husband down.
“I understand policy differences, but I think when there were attacks against his integrity and things like that, that’s the hardest,” she said. “To watch someone you really love, and have people say things that are not true.”
On the flip side, though, Gordon said the number of people who vocally support the governor make up for those who say hurtful things.
“There are people who know him, and know his heart is to take care of the state and do the best job he can,” she said. “And those are the people that come up and share that – and that’s been really positive.”
Love For Wyoming
Jennie has nothing but love for her chosen state of Wyoming – the wide open spaces are a draw for someone who loves to hike, camp and ski as much as she does. But Jennie said she is consistently delighted by the connections between people in this state with a population of less than 580,000.
“You go somewhere and you start talking to somebody you haven’t met before, and within probably a couple minutes, you know one or two people or more in common,” she said.
But looking ahead to the next four years with her husband as the state’s governor, Jennie said she hopes this close-knit population can find a way to come together, rather than let differences continue to divide.
“We really can do so many great things if we’re all pulling in the same direction,” she said. “I think we’ve brought national politics to our state, instead of the way we (used to) appreciate people’s differences.”