In 11 years as Fed chairman, Greenspan has helped render inflation as distant a memory as Dynasty, sustaining eight lustrous years of economic boom. But his toughest test by far came in 1998, when bumpy economies in Russia, Asia and Latin America tripped up Wall Street's bulls and left the U.S. vulnerable to recession. Greenspan persuaded his Fed colleagues to support three timely interest-rate cuts, a nimble reversal of his long-held impulse to raise rates to combat inflation. For a time at least, that helped return stocks (and your retirement funds) to their giddiest summer highs.
Not bad for a guy who does his best work while soaking in the tub each morning for 90 minutes because of a bad back. His wife, NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, 52, surely the only person in the world to call him "sweet pea," says his obscure public manner is no mystery: "Alan is basically shy." Maybe, but Greenspan is a player, and in more ways than one. In the 1940s he played sax and clarinet with a swing band—but as the son of a stockbroker, he also handled the band's finances. Later he picked up three economics degrees, started an economics consulting firm, held a succession of appointive government posts and entered a short-lived 1952 marriage with Joan Mitchell, who became a celebrated painter.
At 72 he's one of Washington's most tireless partygoers, a man linked with such potentates as Barbara Walters before he began dating Andrea in 1985. And still he finds time to calm troubled waters. "Greenspan deserves all credit for guiding the U.S. economy through the most tumultuous period in probably 60 years," says CNNfn anchor Lou Dobbs. So what if he mumbles? When he faced his biggest challenge yet, his ability and resolve were clear.