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The High-Profile Socialite in John Tower's Life

March 02, 1989|STEPHANIE MANSFIELD and PHIL McCOMBS | Washington Post Staff Writers

Most Cabinet designates bring one thing to their confirmation hearings: a good lawyer. John Tower, in the words of one friend, "brought a blonde."

Dorothy Heyser, 63-year-old wealthy Dallas socialite, has been Tower's constant companion since their first date, Jan. 25, 1986. She has been married three times, is said to have been a Hollywood starlet who once dated Clark Gable and is credited with injecting new pizazz into Tower's personality, described by one friend as "stuffy."

She calls him "sweet peach." He calls her "dumpling."

But although friends say Heyser may be the best thing to have happened to the twice-divorced defense secretary-designate, her presence at his confirmation hearings is being privately criticized. Several of Tower's hometown friends warned him not to bring Heyser to the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing room, but he ignored their advice. According to Martha Kirkendall, a longtime Tower assistant who now resides in Dallas, Heyser responded: "Everybody in Washington knows we go together. Why shouldn't I be there?"

Not only did Heyser's presence remind the Senate panel that Tower--saddled with allegations of "womanizing"--was not a married man, but her highly visible profile in Women's Wear Daily was said to be more Nancy Reagan than Barbara Bush. "It was a disaster," one Tower adviser said Tuesday.

Others disagreed. "Dorothy is very much a lady," says one Washington socialite and friend. "She's no blonde bimbo."

Now the couple are ensconced in adjoining rooms at the Jefferson Hotel, waiting out the storm. They are said to be avoiding the social scene, dining quietly with friends such as Rose Narva, managing director of the hotel.

Nancy Hamon, longtime Dallas friend and supporter of Tower, said Tuesday: "He needs her companionship and her support. I think John is very much in love with her."

Indeed, at one crucial point in the hearings, Tower playfully reached under the table during lunch at the Jefferson one afternoon and said, "I'm going to fondle you now."

Heyser--who hobnobs with other socialites and European royalty--has a wicked sense of humor as well. "She teases him," Kirkendall says. "She keeps him on an even keel."

"She is much older than she looks," Hamon said. "She takes very good care of herself."

According to friends, Dorothy Gordon came from "modest means." She was born in Tulsa, the youngest of three children. Her parents died while she was still in high school. As a young woman, she left Oklahoma and went to the West Coast, where she appeared in a few films. Friends say she had a small role in "Artists and Models" (1955) opposite Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

She married Jerry Huber and had one son, Jack. She married again, but friends are hazy on the details. She moved to Dallas. A third marriage, to Estill Heyser, a founder and past chairman of the board of the Bank of Dallas, ended in 1983 with his death. He was said to be an alcoholic. "She's very sensitive to the problem," Kirkendall says. "She certainly doesn't want to go through it again." While Heyser likes to drink socially, "she can take it or leave it," according to Kirkendall.

Friends say Heyser--who was not looking for another husband--met Tower in the fall of 1985, but didn't date him until the following January. Tower's first wife, Lou, is also a friend of Heyser. "She's been very supportive of Lou Tower," Kirkendall says. "That's been a wonderful relationship. She helped heal the wounds" from Tower's second marriage to Lilla Burt Cummings.

During the inauguration, when asked about Tower's alleged drinking problem, Heyser told a reporter, "He doesn't have a drinking problem. Everybody should have that kind of problem that he doesn't have." And she laughed.

"She's tough," Kirkendall says. "She's very secure. I've never found any weak spot in her or any kind of vulnerability. She can really laugh at a lot of these things. She's not easily impressed with the trappings of power."

A snazzy dresser, Heyser is given to wearing red velvet strapless dresses with dangling fur tips and is said to be extremely health conscious.

One mutual friend says Tower and Heyser have a lot in common. They both have condos in the fashionable Turtle Creek area of Dallas and will return there if he is rejected for the Cabinet post. They are both tough and are both short. "She doesn't tower over him like a lot of women would," one Washington friend says.

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