WASHINGTON -- In giving the commencement address at Boston College in 1982, then Vice President George Bush said it was an especially great day for him because he had a daughter in the graduating class.
It was news to most of the students there.
Just as it was news to the public affairs director of Maine's tourism office that the young woman who had started work there one morning in 1988 was the president's daughter. And news to the customers at Deering Ice Cream shop in Portland, Maine, that the woman coming in for lunch, dressed in a sweat suit and lugging one kid under one arm, another by her side, was anything more than just another mother, just another Mainer.
But now, Dorothy Bush LeBlond, the president's youngest child and only daughter, has begun to step out in official and social Washington -- her home in earlier years, and once again since August. And the shy, unassuming 31-year-old appears to have traded in the casual, anonymous sweat suit existence she embraced on the coast of Maine . . . for a piece of the action.
Just last week, Ms. LeBlond accompanied her father on his weeklong swing through South America, taking the place of Barbara Bush who'd been suffering from a sinus infection.
And she's accompanied her father, or more often both parents, at dozens of official functions since settling in Bethesda last summer -- with her two children, Sam, 6, and Nancy Ellis "Ellie," 4 -- after a quiet divorce from her husband, William H. LeBlond, last April.
Even on her own, Ms. LeBlond, who now works in the communications and development office of the National Rehabilitation Hospital here, is starting to make a grand sweep through Washington's social circuit.
In the past several months she's attended an exorbitantly priced dinner dance honoring Diana, Princess of Wales, helped organize an awards show at the Kennedy Center for the Rehabilitation Hospital and sat on the benefit committee for the gala opening of a posh French boutique in Fairfax, Va.
From the Junior League of Portland to Hermes of Paris.
"She was ready for a move," says Alex Heminway, a scheduler for Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher, of her longtime friend's decision to leave the small Portland suburb of Cape Elizabeth. "She did a lot of campaigning for her father. She learned to be on the road, learned to be independent. She was really ready for something a little more challenging, really ready for a bigger city."
Last August, Ms. LeBlond, called Doro by her friends, was welcomed to the city with several private bashes held in her honor. "People are making an effort to get her met," says Ms. Heminway, who invited about 70 people to one such welcoming party.
But even given her new, more social profile, Ms. LeBlond, who looks a lot like her mother with her plainly pretty features and preppie, no-frills style, is trying to stay as much in the shadows of the news as possible. She declined to be interviewed for this article because, explains Anna Perez, Mrs. Bush's press secretary, "She wants to lead a real life. She wants to lead a normal life."
To a certain extent, she's always searched out a nest of normalcy, even amid a life of privilege and power, chauffeurs and chefs, prep schools and summer homes. While living in the grand suite of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York as a child, when her father was ambassador to the United Nations, young Doro befriended the maids and elevator operators, and hoped no one would see her being dropped off at the U.N. school in a big black limousine.
It was far too flashy for her.
"She wasn't a spark plug," says Alice DeLana, one of Ms. LeBlond's English teachers at Miss Porter's prep school in Farmington, Conn., which she attended while her father was ambassador to China.
Later at Boston College, where she majored in sociology, professor Paul Gray recalls her as a "competent" student, but with no great scholastic or professional ambitions. "My impression was she was eager to be married and have a family of her own."
Friends and colleagues still describe Ms. LeBlond as a shy, sweet, sensitive woman with a small, quiet voice and little to none of the Bush ambition and drive.
"Incredibly naive," says one observer. "I was thunderstruck that a woman growing up in a family like that could be, at her age, so naive."
She's confessed to being fiercely devoted to her parents, and fiercely sheltered by them -- especially by her father -- perhaps because the Bushes lost their second child and only other daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia at age 4.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Bush often referred to Dorothy, with obvious affection, as the little girl who always had the screen door slammed in her face chasing after her four older brothers. "You can sense the dynamic between them is very close, loving and protective," says one friend, "and it goes both ways."
But those who know the first daughter say the '88 presidential campaign -- which she entered with zeal, spending much time away from her Maine home -- affected and changed her profoundly. "At the beginning of the campaign, she looked like a Quaker girl," says one campaign observer. "But by end, she had lost weight and was getting more and more spruced up, more stylish."
After the election and inauguration, Ms. LeBlond, who lived wither husband and children, a nanny and cat in a large new home on a cul-de-sac in Cape Elizabeth, went to work as a conference coordinator for the Maine Office of Tourism in Augusta.
But, as one friend says, "She seemed pulled in two different directions," and started spending more and more time at the White House and Camp David or at her parents' summer home in Kennebunkport.
Her husband, a building contractor in Maine and college hockey star, one of 10 children of a prominent New York banking family, was less eager to join the first family festivities.
"Billy is very comfortable in Maine jeans and flannel shirts," says one friend of the couple's who asked not to be named. "Doro was anxious to come to Washington and be a part of all this. He was not anxious. It was a lot for him to handle."
Evan Livada, a longtime friend of Mr. LeBlond's, agrees, "Billy is more the down-home type person. He did not enjoy the limelight as much as would be needed to be the son-in-law of the president. The social atmosphere wasn't something he was all that excited about."
The couple separated in August 1989 after seven years of marriage. Mr. LeBlond, also a soft-spoken type who coaches hockey at Cape Elizabeth High School, was conspicuously absent from his wife's 30th birthday party that month in Kennebunkport.
That fall, Mr. LeBlond was stopped by police while driving his pickup truck in Maynard, Mass., and charged with drunken driving and possession of marijuana. One day before he was sentenced -- fined $1,285 and prohibited from driving in Massachusetts for one year -- his estranged wife filed for divorce citing "irreconcilable differences."
Friends say Mrs. Bush was especially saddened by the divorce, the only note of discord in an otherwise perfect portrait of family bliss among the large Bush clan, but that the parting was amicable. In fact, Mr. LeBlond, who first met Doro in Maine where both families have long spent summers, has been coming down to Washington about twice a month to visit his children.
"My family is a hard family to marry into," Ms. LeBlond told Ann Grimes, author of "Running Mates," after her father's inauguration. "I'm sure it can be highly intimidating, especially my brothers -- as much as I love them. They're all power kind of guys."
Even though she now spends a lot of time at the White House, often jogging with her father and attending official functions with her parents, few believe that Dorothy Bush LeBlond will become one of Washington's "power guys" and take on a political or high-society profile of her own.
"She's a mom first," says her good friend Mary Margaret "Honey" Skinner, wife of Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner. "First and foremost, she's Sam and Ellie's mom."
But others believe that with all of Washington before her -- and her friends and family in high places -- this single mother, who just two years ago confessed she still didn't know who she wanted to be, may start spreading her wings.
Ms. DeLana, for one, believes this latest chapter in her former student's life may finally "allow all the seeds planted at Miss Porter's to blossom."
Dorothy Bush LeBlond THE LeBLOND FILE Born: Aug. 18, 1959, the youngest of George and Barbara Bush's five children.
Education: Miss Porter's School, Farmington, Conn.; B.A., Boston College, 1982.
Family: Married September 1982 to William LeBlond. Divorced April 1990. Children: Samuel Bush LeBlond, 6, Nancy Ellis ("Ellie"), 4.
Current employment: Coordinator of special audiences in the communications and development office of the National Rehabilitation Hospital, part of the Washington Hospital Center complex.