TALLAHASSEE -- Ann Scott stepped up to the microphone in a tangerine dress, her blonde hair curled in at her shoulders, flags of her country and state behind her.
Gov. Rick Scott’s wife, 60, petite and put-together, looked the part of Florida’s first lady.
Was she ready to act it?
Almost a year and a half after her husband was elected, Ann was finally about to give her first solo press conference. She needed to say a few words at Tallahassee’s largest hospital about a campaign she championed to distribute baby journals to new moms.
A month earlier, she had declined an interview with the Tampa Bay Times through her aide, who said she was flattered but “notwithstanding her husband’s election to statewide office, she wants to try to maintain as private a life as she can.”
Now she was standing in front of people with cameras and questions. It was everything she begged her husband not to make her do.
Ann wanted her husband to be governor. But she wasn’t at all sure she wanted to be first lady.
The role is nebulous, undefined but rife with expectations of advocacy. First ladies are supposed to use the spotlight to support causes traditionally within a woman’s purview, such as children, the elderly or the arts.
Speaking engagements are part of the job. But Ann has dreaded public speaking since sixth grade, when her social studies teacher called on her to give an oral report.
She walked up to the front of the class and stared out at all of the faces. She tried to speak but her voice shook. Her knees and hands trembled. Her classmates laughed. Her teacher did nothing to stop them.
“That was it,” she said, recounting the moment to the Tampa Bay Times in a 30-minute interview in December, eight months after she initially declined. As she spoke, her chief of staff and two press aides watched intently from an opposite couch.
Ann is refined, and revels in her private roles of mother, wife and friend. She smiles through the interview, but she is careful not to say anything that might hurt the man she married.
High school sweethearts
Ann and Rick Scott have been together since high school, well before he made a fortune building a giant hospital company, launched a crusade to oppose President Barack Obama’s healthcare law and poured $70 million into his campaign for governor.
She was the new girl in town with a Texas twang, sitting in the North Kansas City High School library in 1970. He was the gangly, blue-eyed young man who wanted to be a lawyer, a businessman, anything but poor.
What did she see in him?
“I don’t know. I just thought he was cute.”
After an eight-month courtship, he treated her to dinner at a fancy restaurant. When dessert came, he gave her a simple solitaire with little diamonds on each side.
It was not a surprise. She had helped him pick it out.
The wedding ceremony at a Baptist church in Kansas City was modest. They served only wedding cake, punch and mints.
They grew up together, scrimping and saving. When they moved to Newport, R.I., the site of her husband’s Navy duty station, Ann worked as a legal secretary and shopped for groceries on a $15 weekly budget.
She didn’t know anyone.
“I remember her writing and saying how lonely she was there,” said Debbie Wiest, her friend of 40 years. “You never want people to feel that way.”