Lindsey Graham’s new self-published memoir, My Story, offers a peek into his colorful past, including his “rascally” upbringing in a South Carolina bar, several failed romances, and the origins of an extremely unflattering nickname: Stinkball.
In his autobiography, released Wednesday as a free download on his website, the Republican presidential candidate and longtime bachelor – who has joked that he will have a “rotating First Lady” if he’s elected – reveals his brushes with matrimony, and opens up about why he never tied the knot.
“I’ve never married. I guess I attribute that to timing, too,” writes the 59-year-old South Carolina senator. “The opportunity never presented itself at the right time, or I never found time to meet the right girl, or the right girl was smart enough not to have time for me.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t come close.
He had a girlfriend, Debbie, in law school, and two more during his time in the Air Force in Germany: a JAG officer named Carol who went on to serve on Colin Powell’s staff, and a Lufthansa flight attendant named Sylvia, Politico reports.
His relationship with Sylvia became “serious quickly,” he writes, so serious that he considered proposing to her. He never did. She returned to Vienna to be with her family and he “was a South Carolina boy who needed to go home.”
“I haven’t been lucky that way,” he adds of finding a wife. “But I have a family.”
Graham writes about that family in his memoir, explaining how his mother and father raised him in the back of the segregated bar they ran in the rural town of Central, South Carolina. He took baths with water heated on the stove, and shared a bathroom with patrons who worked at a nearby mill plant.
When customers stepped away to the restroom, Graham would sneak swigs of their beers and puffs of their cigarettes, earning himself the nickname Stinkball, which “everyone in the bar except my parents called me.”
Though he writes that “parents would probably lose custody of their children today if they let them behave as independently and as rascally as I did,” Graham says living at the Sanitary Cafe was “a great way to grow up.”
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He also admits, however, that the business did not allow black people to drink at the bar.
“Times being what they were, most of our customers were white,” he said. “My folks sold beer to anyone of legal age, but I’m sorry to say, for many of the years my parents operated the bar, black people were expected to drink the beer they purchased from us off the premises.”
“It’s just the way it is,” Graham said his father told him. The bar eventually became desegregated in the early 1970s, Graham says, “much later than it should have.”
But he adds that racial hostility did not sit well with his father, who once “cracked my helmet hard” against the skull of a white patron who hurled racial slurs at a black man.
Graham was heartbroken after the deaths of his mother and father, who died within 15 months of each other when he was just 22.
It was only after he was elected to Congress that he found peace.
“I felt assured my parents knew what I had achieved, and that it was because of them, of all they had done for me, that I had succeeded beyond our dreams,” he writes.
If they could see him now …