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1ST LADY KEEPS PRIVATE, PUBLIC LIFE IN BALANCE

SHARE 1ST LADY KEEPS PRIVATE, PUBLIC LIFE IN BALANCE

Utah first lady Jackie Leavitt thinks nothing of fixing an impromptu picnic lunch for herself and her three youngest children when a newspaper photographer suggests it might make a good picture.

Within minutes after finishing a meeting with a state education official on promoting a new program to improve families, Leavitt is spreading peanut butter and jelly on bread and collecting cartons of apple juice.Everything is packed into a wicker basket and draped with red gingham napkins. The first lady has changed from a crisp navy and white suit to a flowered blouse and bright green skirt.

She rounds up Anne Marie, 11, who's spent much of the morning zipping around the grounds of the Governor's Mansion in a cherished pair of in-line roller skates.

The baby of the family, 3-year-old Westin, can be heard crying while he's being readied for the picnic. But the tears are gone by the time Leavitt brings him downstairs from the mansion's second-floor living quarters.

When Westin - nicknamed "Westy" - gets outside and sees his favorite toy, a blue plastic car big enough for him to sit in, he's all smiles. Anne Marie says her brother likes to pretend he's the governor when he's in the car.

Leavitt has the children arranged on a blanket on the neatly groomed lawn east of the mansion when their 9-year-old brother, Chase, arrives from playing at a friend's house.

Chase is less than enthusiastic about posing for the photographer, ducking under his Orioles baseball cap. When asked about the cap, he rattles off his personal stats from his most recent Little League game in a bored monotone.

Leavitt stays cheerful throughout endless poses, gently prodding Chase to sit up and Westin to stay still. Anne Marie not only holds her sandwich the way the photographer asks but also helps keep Westin entertained.

Once the photographer has what he wants and the children tear off to play, Leavitt declines an offer of help to clear the remains of the picnic and picks up after the children herself.

Although the Leavitts go to great lengths to keep their five children out of the public eye, the demands placed on the first lady during that recent photo session are typical.

After six months in the Governor's Mansion, Jackie Leavitt is getting used to balancing what she considers her most important responsibility - her husband and family - with the public role expected of a governor's spouse.

It's not a role she sought. "I loved our life before. I have to be really honest, I didn't welcome the change. But now we're here," she said. Most difficult for her is coping with the family's lack of privacy.

"It helps to have a thick skin. I'm still working on that," Leavitt said, citing several instances where she felt her husband's actions had been unfairly portrayed in the media.

She has also been surprised by the interest in what the rest of the family does, recalling reporters inquiring about a poster of an actor hung in a window of the mansion by her older sons, Mike "Bud" Jr., 17, and Taylor, 15.

As first lady, Leavitt has taken on several children's issues and is planning an annual conference on families. She also serves as hostess to the mansion's many visitors, including some 1,300 schoolchildren this year alone.

She limits her time away from her own family by scheduling meetings only on Tuesdays and Thursday whenever possible and relies on help from an assistant, residence manager and part-time housekeeper.

"I have to be the safety net for the family," Leavitt said. With her husband's busy schedule, the responsibility for seeing that the children's lives remain unchanged as much as possible has fallen on her.

"He really does try. That's important," Leavitt said. "We're good for him, too. We bring him some balance. There are so many demands . . . in six months, he's already worked enough for a year."

In fact, the governor is so busy that she has set down rules to make sure he does have time with the family: Sundays are reserved for church and other family activities, and business trips shouldn't last more than two days.

The family is spending much of July together at the Leavitt family ranch in Loa, Wayne County. The governor is flying back to the Capitol at least once a week and squeezing in southern Utah meetings within driving distance.

The Leavitts tried another commute, between the mansion and their longtime home in the Harvard-Yale area of Salt Lake City, on weekends. But late last month, they gave up and readied the modest house for renters.

Jackie Leavitt is looking forward to returning to that home someday. "I'll sure enjoy moving back to a private home and having control over my life. You feel everybody owns a little piece of you," she said.

But then she brightens. "When things are hard, I need to remember there are difficult things about it, but on balance, there are so many wonderful things."