What a curious license plate, the mayor was thinking.
"What's beshert ?" Richard Riordan asked press aide David Novak as they headed into a radio station recently.
"You and Nancy are beshert ," Novak said, defining the Hebrew word. "When two souls are brought into the world, you're fated eventually to be together. And when you come together, it's meant to be--strong people and similar interests, from biking to children to taking care of people. It's beshert ."
A week later, Nancy Daly, the mayor's \o7 beshert\f7 , arrives at the Children's Museum. Her presence is as muted as the kid-packed building is raucous. She slips in wearing a taupe pantsuit and pearls, her dark blond hair curling slightly beneath her chin.
At first glance, Daly seems rather like the incarnation of two Southern Californias--the fresh, pert looks of Gidget polished by the tasteful imperatives of Rodeo Drive. She's petite--and remarkably trim, thanks in part to thrice-weekly visits from a personal trainer she met while helping at MacLaren Children's Center, the county's emergency foster home in El Monte for abused and neglected kids.
MacLaren might seem an odd place to find a fitness guru, but it's one of the capitals on Daly's map. The facility has been one of the most notable stops on her journey since her first visit 15 years ago.
The ripples from that visit have been profound. Daly, 52, went on to become one of L.A.'s most prominent children's activists, partly by harnessing substantial Hollywood contacts stemming from her 30-year marriage to Warner Bros. CEO Robert A. Daly.
Nancy Daly helped start the United Friends of the Children, a charitable foundation that channels volunteers' time and money to MacLaren; she helped establish the county Department of Children's Services, and she served on the nonpartisan National Commission on Children, which recommended government policy reforms.
Dr. Donald Cohen, director of the Yale Child Studies Center, served with Daly on the commission from 1989 to 1992. "She was the central, most important person on the commission for adolescence and foster care and the transition from foster care to adulthood," he says. "She brought this real personal engagement to thinking about these children because she didn't relate to them in a professional capacity, but as a mentor and advocate and friend of children in foster care."
In the course of helping children find some semblance of family life, and a little peace, Daly found more than a personal trainer--she found Riordan. He had lost two of his five children a decade ago--his only son drowned and a daughter died of bulimia--and Riordan was known for funneling his money and his drive into children's charities. (They receive most of the $3 million he donates yearly.)
Daly and Riordan met about five years ago, when she asked him to fund a $20,000 computer reading lab at MacLaren. (He did.) Riordan was impressed: "I thought she was somebody who obviously cared. I was very struck with her practical ability, that she knew how to implement things, which is rare among people, whether in government or charity."
A couple years later, Daly and friends hit up Riordan for another donation, this time to help bankroll an immunization program for underprivileged children. He gave $25,000.
"He got on the speaker phone and rounded up other people immediately who then gave us money," Daly says. "It just happened when we sat there. It was very obvious that he does things immediately. He's a doer and doesn't put things off. I had never seen anybody operate that way before."
Daly filed for divorce in November, 1991, and her first date with Riordan was a Christmas holiday party at Union Station.
"When I found out she was separated," Riordan says, "I thought, 'This brilliant, beautiful caring human being, I ought to do something about that.' "
Says Daly: "I think both of us have lived full lives. We've had a lot of experiences, and sometimes I think we've been in training for each other."
He had been footloose since his separation five years ago from his second wife, Jill. But Daly has been the official First Significant Other from the start of his Administration, appearing by his side at the July, 1993, inauguration.
They live apart--Daly in an airy, 15-room home in Bel-Air, and Riordan, 64 today, in a $6-million French Colonial house in Brentwood--and see each other, she says, "as often as possible." That often translates to five days a week, for city and charity functions or that scarce resource, leisure: biking, reading, or spending time with family or friends.
Making the date is no easy feat. "It's a complicated procedure," Daly says. "It takes his office and my secretary a lot of planning. They talk to each other a couple of times a day to coordinate."