Summit of Love

UPDATED 08/28/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/28/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

HOW DOES A SOBER AND MATURE relationship between two middle-aged adults begin? With a wild, first-date fling, of course. It was Christmas Day in 1993, and Kati Marton was moping about in a Paris hotel room; six months earlier, she had separated from ABC anchorman Peter Jennings after an often-turbulent, 15-year marriage. To cheer herself up, she called old friend Richard Holbrooke, then U.S. ambassador to Germany, who was also vacationing in Paris. "That was not my happiest time," recalls Marton, 46. But her mood brightened considerably when she met Holbrooke the next day—and the pair impulsively took off on a giddy three-day tour de France.

"We started telling stories and talking about books. We just never ran out of things to say," says Marton, snuggling with her new husband in their sunny Upper West Side Manhattan apartment. "The conversation hasn't stopped since. We've never experienced anything like this." Holbrooke, 54, is equally smitten. "Kati is beautiful, smart and full of life," he says. "The chemistry is just right."

Part of the bond has to do with their mutual interest in world affairs. A respected National Public Radio reporter and onetime ABC News Bonn bureau chief, the Budapest-born Marton has written four books—including 1994's A Death in Jerusalem, about the 1948 assassination of the first Arab-Israeli peacemaker, Count Folke Bernadotte—and hosts "America and the World" on NPR. Holbrooke, who in 1994 was named assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs (his bailiwick includes Bosnia) by his friend Bill Clinton, has an equally peripatetic history. The State Department point man on the Far East for Jimmy Carter, Holbrooke was managing editor of the liberal Washington journal Foreign Policy in the mid-'70s, Diane Sawyer's boyfriend in the '80s and, in 1985, a Wall Street investment banker before heading to Germany to join Clinton's foreign-policy team.

These days the war in Bosnia has left Holbrooke and Marton with little time together—barely enough even for their wedding last May in Budapest. Since returning to Manhattan after their weeklong honeymoon in the French Alps, Holbrooke has spent much of his time in Washington and last week journeyed to Bosnia to lead a peace mission. All that could soon change. Holbrooke, who has privately expressed frustration over the arms embargo on Bosnia, says, "I've told the President from the day I took this job that I wouldn't be here through the full term. I've promised Kati that I will return to New York." Still, the pair believe their marriage—the third for both—has changed them for better, not worse. "I remember coming back from Budapest and walking into the Oval Office," says Holbrooke. "The President said, 'Hey! You're married! How do you feel?' I said, 'Stable.' And Clinton said, 'You look it.' "

Domestic stability wasn't part of Marton's early years in Hungary, where her parents, both reporters, were wrongly jailed as spies a year before the 1956 anticommunist uprising. Abandoned by relatives, 6-year-old Kati and older sister Julia spent a year in a foster home before her parents were released and the Martons eventually settled in Washington. She subsequently earned a master's degree in international relations at George Washington University in 1971.

When she met Jennings in London in 1977, Marton was already divorced (a three-year marriage to China scholar Carroll Wetzel ended when she was 24) and had been warned about the dashing correspondent's heartbreaking ways. But Marton had fallen hard, and the couple married in 1978. Retiring from TV news, Marton began writing nonfiction books and became a full-time Manhattan mom to Elizabeth, now 15, and Christopher, 13. But she grew tired of Jennings' flirtations. She separated from him in 1987 for five months, engaging in an eyebrow-raising affair with Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Since her divorce from Jennings, finalized last April, "Peter has moved on, and Kati seems radiant," says author Lady Bird Francke, a close friend. "It's a new kind of happiness for all of them."

Holbrooke's two sons, David, 30, a Today show producer, and Anthony, 25, who works with refugees, were born during his 1964-to-'72 first marriage to D.C. lawyer Larrine Sullivan. Holbrooke, a Brown University graduate, joined the State Department two years before marrying Sullivan, then served in the Johnson White House. After his subsequent one-year marriage to Blythe Babyak, at the time a MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour producer, he kept exclusive company with newswoman Diane Sawyer from 1980 to '87. When he proposed to Marton last February, he had, in a sense, given the relationship plenty of time. "We had known each other socially and been friends for 10 years," he says. "It wasn't as if we just met on the shuttle."

When Marton is not tending to her children (they alternate weeks with her and Jennings), she loves entertaining friends at home with Holbrooke, who encourages her to express her opinions as much as he does his. "I used to hold back, but Richard loves it when I shine," she says. "It's wonderful to have someone who likes the person I am." And one who won't mind letting her and her career take center stage. "When you're ambassador to Hungary," he says to Marton, "I want to be the ambassador's spouse!"

J.D. REED
JANE SIMS PODESTA in Washington

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