Overshadowed D.C. Hubbies Find a Sterling Role Model

updated 03/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

It's not that Charles Horner doesn't have a job or anything like that. A former associate director at the U.S. Information Agency, Horner is a resident scholar at a conservative think tank. It's just that his wife, Constance, is the Under Secretary of Health and Human Services, a high-profile job in status-conscious Washington, D.C. So the couple have received mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Constance Horner.

Tom Harvey does okay too. He's an attorney and former deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration. His better half, though, is Cathleen Black, publisher of USA Today. So, he says, magazine articles about Black have kissed him off as simply "a lawyer who lives in Washington."

Behind every successful woman in the capital, it seems, is a man who doesn't mind walking a few steps behind. Now these consorts have banded together to share their uncomplaining obscurity. They are the members of the Denis Thatcher Society, named after the self-effacing English hubby whose role in public life is to hold British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's coat. "It's an honorable society of husbands whose wives have become quite prominent in their own right," says member Bernard Norwood, an economic consultant whose wife, Janet, is Commissioner of Labor Statistics. "Members bask in the achievements of their wives," he adds tactfully, "and enjoy the aura of recognition that their wives have rightfully achieved."

Not every superwoman's husband is eligible for membership; the element of obscurity is crucial. "Bob Dole couldn't possibly be one," says Horner, the society's founder. Knowing one's place, he notes, is a must. "There are some guys whose wives are much more famous than they are, and they don't know it. They still think they're important guys." And sudden success can disqualify one from membership. National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Lynne Cheney's husband was once praised at a dinner as a spouse who "dresses nicely, entertains well and works productively outside the home." He was a GOP Congressman from Wyoming and, as Horner points out, "there's nothing more obscure than a House Republican." Then Dick Cheney became Secretary of Defense—and ineligible for the Thatcher Society.

So far, the group—whose motto is, of course, "Yes, Dear"—has restricted its activities to a couple of lunches. "We don't go hunting," says Horner. "We seem not to engage in any traditional male bonding experiences." The guys eat only in places where their wives are members—and, of course, they charge meals to their wives' accounts. After all, they're the ones with the big jobs.

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