How the unwitting symbol of a terrorist cause became a conservative—and a contented mom

By People Staff
March 05, 1984 12:00 PM

On a typical workaday morning the suburban Connecticut matron throws on her coat, drives hubby to the commuter train for New York, kisses him goodbye and motors back with her toddler to her five-bedroom colonial home on two secluded acres. She unpeels 2-year-old Gillian from her snowsuit, scatters birdseed on the back porch for the cardinals and grosbeaks and then tries to straighten the jumble in the family room, where hubby’s weight-lifting equipment sits next to the toddler’s rocking horse. “We’re still settling in,” she apologizes. “It’ll be months before we can have someone in to clean.” A transplanted Californian, she celebrated her 30th birthday last week at a quiet dinner with friends, and she was looking forward to becoming even more like her sedate neighbors. “I always wanted to live in the East,” she says. “I wanted to go to school here, but my parents said I wouldn’t like it and it was too far away. After what happened in Berkeley, they would have given anything for me to have gone East to school.”

Indeed. Patty Hearst Shaw may be the nation’s most unlikely suburbanite. If her daily routine is resolutely ordinary, it once was so singularly touched by the bizarre and the lurid as to strain belief. She spent her 20th birthday as a blindfolded prisoner in a darkened closet, kidnapped two weeks previously by a small band of muddle-headed “revolutionaries” who brutalized her, raped her and threatened her with death. They styled themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the torment they inflicted on the heiress granddaughter of press lord William Randolph Hearst became their mark on history. The dramatic images from that time are indelible. The unruly mobs snatching the free food extorted by the SLA from the Hearst Corp. Kidnappers Donald (Cinque) DeFreeze and five of his followers dying in the burning house set ablaze by L.A. police bullets. The brainwashed and traumatized Patty becoming “Tania,” the revolutionary holding a gun in front of the SLA’s cobra insignia. A bank camera’s jerky stop-action photos of her participation in a holdup. Captured by the FBI in 1975, convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to seven years, Patty served 22½ months in prison before President Carter commuted her term in 1979. “I had five years taken out of my life, either as a kidnap victim or a prisoner,” Patty says. “Should I spend my whole life complaining about it? Then I would be victimizing myself.” Two years ago she dropped all legal appeals. “I realized it would take years to clear my name,” she says. “My life had to go in another direction.”

And it went toward home and conservatism. Explains Patty: “Being kidnapped by radicals and put into prison with mostly drug addicts made me far more conservative and less supportive of liberal government policies—on welfare, for example. When I was in college I knew people who used food stamps to buy lobster and pâté. They thought it was the funniest thing. One of them even had a trust fund. I know from my own experience abuses exist. People will say that, coming from my family, I’m so spoiled. Well, I’d rather do any job than stand in line for a welfare check.”

She doesn’t miss the West Coast. “It’s so much nicer in the East, more formal, which I like,” she says. “I hardly ever go out in blue jeans. I like the seasons too. It gives you a sense of the continuity of life. I just got fed up with California. Emily and Bill Harris [the only surviving members of the kidnapping gang] got out of prison last spring,” she adds. “In the East, when they talk about a lenient sentence, it’s 25 years. In California they let out one kook after another. It’s especially depressing when they let out your own weirdos.”

The parole board actions, Patty insists, had nothing to do with her move six months ago, which was caused by the promotion of her husband of five years, her former bodyguard, Bernard Shaw, 38, to a desk security job with the Hearst Corp. in New York. Bernie’s son by his first marriage, Tom, 16, is another member of the household (Shaw’s daughter, Heather, 11, lives with her mother), and the boy “thinks the world of Patty,” says Bernie. “It’s been like going to another planet,” says Shaw of the move. “Patty seems lighter, and there is more of a twinkle in her eye. Of course, I don’t think she’ll ever be able to put the ordeal in the past. She has to live with it.”

She’s better and better at that. Her attack dog, Arrow, a 100-pound German shepherd, spiritedly chases squirrels, not intruders. The 400 flower bulbs the couple planted await the advent of spring. Patty stays busy decorating the house but can’t bring herself to finish the last bedroom—except as a nursery. “Gillian makes me want to have more children,” she says. “It has been a lot of fun with her. I could work if I wanted to, but I can’t imagine dumping her in day care. Being with her is much more satisfying. I certainly understand if a woman has to work, but, gosh, why have children if you’re not going to be there with them? And I think it’s a shame to be married and not have children. What a sad decision.”

Someday Patty thinks she may join her aunt in charity work in New York. Of course, Patty Hearst in the Junior League seems nearly as predictable a prospect as it was before the circuit of her life was broken. “For a time I was a symbol of the rebellious youth of the ’60s. There was a lot of hostility toward me,” she says. “Now I think I am an example of someone who has overcome adversity. I think if you don’t take yourself too seriously and keep plugging away, things will work out. People can be incredibly vicious because of the name Hearst. With my daughter I’ll always be more cautious about what she does because I was the victim of a crime. I may go back to California in 20 years. Meanwhile, though, I’ve just gone on with my life.”