Jackie Gingrich, a woman known to many as the first wife of one of the most recognizable figures in Republican politics, represented so much more to the people who truly knew her.
By trade Gingrich was a math teacher, but those who received instruction from her learned far more than the rules of calculating numbers.
“The math was in the background,” said Lance Ozier, a former geometry student of Gingrich’s. “She was so encouraging about the things of life. She had a type of wisdom that made me think she’d been here before.”
Though she’d recently been given a “clean bill of health where cancer was concerned,” said daughter Jackie Gingrich Cushman, Jacqueline May Battley Gingrich died Wednesday in Atlanta from complications of multiple health issues. The longtime resident of Carrollton was 77.
A funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church, Carrollton, with burial to follow. Almon Funeral Home and Chapel, Carrollton, is in charge of arrangements.
Famous for her privacy, Gingrich’s name became public fodder in the late-‘70s, toward the end of her marriage to Newt Gingrich. Jackie Gingrich rarely discussed their marriage, but questions swirled around the divorce even as recently as 2012 during Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid.
The two met in Columbus at Baker High School, where she was his geometry teacher. Seven years his senior, they married in 1962. The couple had two daughters but divorced in 1980, two years after he won a seat in the U.S. House. Cushman wrote a column in 2011 that said her parents’ divorce had “been hard and painful for all involved, but life continued.” She disputed an oft-repeated story that Newt Gingrich had served her mother with divorce papers in her hospital bed as she recovered from surgery for cancer.
Newt Gingrich — who has married twice since then – would go on to a meteoric rise in Washington, leading the Republican revolution and ascending to speaker of the House. Jackie Gingrich, a Columbus native, returned to Georgia and to the classroom where she taught for more than 20 years.
Ozier’s friendship with his former Carrollton High School teacher started in the most unlikely of ways. The story goes that he wrote The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1995 to voice his displeasure with an editorial cartoon that featured Gingrich, who was his teacher at the time. To his surprise, his lamentation was published for all to read.
“I was scared to death to go to school that day, but my mother made me,” he said. “And of course she’d read it, but she called me out, gave me a hug and said, ‘Thank you.’ But that is the kind of woman she was. She lived with a quiet dignity you wanted to emulate.”
Forever the teacher, Gingrich always saw an opportunity to encourage, said Marc Grunden, whom she tutored in math.
“I stopped by to see her about a year ago and mentioned to her that I wished I’d done better in math,” he said. “And she went and got textbooks from her library and said, ‘Young man, you may be 42 years old, but you can still learn math. You take these home and read them!’ She was always Mama Jackie, and as sweet as she could be, but she always had high expectations of you.”
In addition to Cushman, her daughter who lives in Atlanta, Gingrich is survived by another daughter, Kathy Gingrich Lubbers of Florida; a sister, Carol Edenfield of Columbus; and two grandchildren.
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