The Agent of Change in Susan Ford's Life Has Been Hubby Chuck Vance

updated 06/22/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/22/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It was not the sort of dilemma they taught Chuck Vance to handle in Secret Service school. There he was, assigned to safeguard the ex-President of the U.S., Gerald Ford, and the President's daughter was stalking him. "I kept telling her," Vance recalls, " 'Susan, you're trouble, because if my superiors find out they won't like it; your parents won't like it; and the 16-year age difference is too great.' "

Now 23, Susan admits to reversing the roles in courtship. When Vance pleaded "My job, my job!" she paid no mind, and in fact persisted all the more. She would phone and leave messages for him: "Tell him Trouble called." Susan explains, "I knew I was in love with the guy. It was only a matter of persuading him that our relationship was more important than his job—which he finally came to realize." Twenty months after they first met at her parents' Palm Springs home, Chuck was finally persuaded, and in February 1979 the couple married.

Today the Vances are notably content—she at being out of the limelight and he at leaving his $30,000-plus post to go into business for himself. They have a nice town house worth about $160,000 in Fairfax County, Va., a Washington suburb, and a 10-month-old daughter, Tyne Mary. Chuck's MVM International Security, Inc., which he started with two other ex-agents to provide protection for entertainers, corporate executives and foreign dignitaries and their families, has 30 employees and is thriving. "Five years ago we probably would have starved, but now everybody's conscious of security," Vance says. His wife has given up her budding photography career to take care of the house and her child (she has only a once-a-week maid). "What I really wanted out of life was a family of my own," Susan says.

The son of a Chicago contractor, Vance grew up in California and worked his way through Berkeley in the uproarious 1960s on an NROTC scholarship and two jobs. "I was a nice, clean-cut fraternity boy," he notes. "Either you got involved in issues with both feet or you just kind of tuned it out." Three months after he graduated in 1964 with a B.A. in criminology, he was back on campus—this time in Oakland police blues. "Those were the days of Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement. I saw a lot of my friends landing in the jug," he says. "And then there was Huey Newton, the Black Panthers and the Hell's Angels." A year later, when the Warren Commission called for the Secret Service to be beefed up, Chuck joined. One member of the commission was Michigan Rep. Gerald R. Ford, Minority Leader of the House.

Vance's first job in Washington was guarding Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. "Those were the Vietnam days, and everywhere we went we ran into egg throwers," Vance says. His second Veep was Spiro Agnew, who was always close to his agents. "It was a shock when he resigned," Vance says, "like Mom and apple pie were somehow tainted." He was next posted to Honolulu, where the Secret Service had its central office for the Orient. There he met Rosalind Maki, a Eurasian divorcée; they married in 1971 and he adopted her two children, Kai, now 13, and Nicole, 11. Two years later Vance moved to San Francisco. He was running the Secret Service office there in September 1975 when Sara Jane Moore tried to shoot President Ford.

At the time Susan was about to discover postadolescence tristesse. Basking in her father's Washington glory, she had had her prom at the White House, mooched photo tips off the pros in the press and studied with Ansel Adams. "I loved that period," she says. "If you count my father's Vice-Presidency, it was three and a half years of a dream." Then reality struck. In November 1976 her father lost his election bid, and the following January she entered the photojournalism school at the University of Kansas. Says Susan: "I was very unhappy. I had a Secret Service detail and everyone was afraid to talk to me. I didn't have a date for six months." Though she worked part-time for the Topeka Capital-Journal, at school she was put in a beginners' photography class. Though she had been making stump speeches for years, she was put in basic public speaking. And though she had a top agent, Norman Brokaw, she had no work. Reports Susan: "He kept calling, saying, 'I just turned down another job for you because your parents said you were in college and to leave you alone.' It was a rotten period in my life."

Then, on a visit home to Palm Springs in March 1977, Susan met Chuck. It was loathe at first sight. "She was about 30 pounds heavier than she is now," he remembers. "She wore old cut-offs and a sweatshirt and her hair was just kind of hanging around." When Chuck introduced himself as "one of the supervisors on your father's detail," he says, "she gave me a real insulting, who-is-this-guy look."

A month later she called her parents from Kansas to say she had quit school. She was told, "As long as you were in college we supported you, but you're on your own now." Still, they let her sleep on a couch in Palm Springs.

When the Fords moved to Vail, Colo. for the summer, Susan and Chuck met again. Vance was newly divorced and very altar-shy. "I just figured with the job and the travel I was a lot smarter being a bachelor," he says. "In fact I was kind of on a binge in those days. There were all those ladies and I was going for it. But Susan and I kept running into each other at parties and began dating on a very casual basis."

Susan didn't tell her parents she was seeing him. "I didn't feel it was their right to get involved," she says. "And they'd learned that if they said they liked somebody, they'd never see him again, so they kept their mouths shut."

Finally the relationship got serious. "I was extremely jealous," Susan says. "If he dated someone else I would wait up by the front window to see him come in. Then I'd call the next morning to remind him I was still there." Gradually, Chuck says, "she broke down all the arguments I had about the age gap. It wasn't like I was sitting in a rocking chair and she was out running and jumping." When at last they decided to marry and told her parents, Chuck says, "There was a very philosophical discussion with Mr. Ford about the age difference." Adds Susan: "I don't think a prince or anybody else was good enough for their daughter."

She reports that when Tyne Mary came home from the hospital, Grandma Betty "stayed a week, cooked lunch and dinner, made me take naps, bathed the baby and was a huge help."

The Vances relish their normal life. "We're just another couple in Fairfax and most people don't even know who we are," beams the young woman who once thought 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was the zip code for paradise. "I love it because I don't have to put on a dress every time I walk out the door because someone's going to judge me." As for Chuck, she says, "He's got 16 years experience on me, and he prevents me from making a lot of mistakes."

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