Rendells put others at ease with their separation e-mail

Posted: February 09, 2011

The Ed-and-Midge post-marriage landscape unfolded quietly on Tuesday with the now-publicly separated couple's e-mail - with its striking assurance to friends that no awkwardness would be required - setting the tone.

"They obviously have a long history of being a public couple," said Sara Corse, a clinical psychologist with the Council for Relationships of Philadelphia. "They're actually pretty tuned in to how to be together no matter what conflict may be between the two of them, or lack of intimacy between them, with enabling the public to interact with them in comfortable ways.

"In a way, they're setting the tone for how they would like things to be," she said.

Corse said that in amicable splits such as the Rendells', especially ones with a 40-year history and two public, productive people, the goals of normalcy and connectedness that can be so elusive in other separations or divorces become possible.

And as they did in so many public settings and events - ribbon-cuttings, election nights, galas, cultural fund-raisers - the Rendells dominated the discussion, even with their brief e-mail being their only comment.

Marjorie Rendell, 64, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, was reported to be en route to a wedding in Australia with her daughter-in-law. Former Gov. Edward G. Rendell, 67, was presumably on deadline for his new Wednesday sports column with the Philadelphia Daily News. The pair attended a University of Pennsylvania basketball game together with their son and his wife over the weekend.

"They're educating people around them," Corse said. " 'You don't have to tiptoe around us, or warn one when the other is coming.' When people are able to come to an amicable divorce, that's one of the characteristics. There isn't a lot of tension. It actually works. I've seen it."

Most of their close friends and colleagues have been publicly mum since the disclosure Monday night, in accordance with the request in the e-mail for privacy.

"They are great folks," said architect Jorge Lovera, who serves on the board of Avenue of the Arts Inc., which Midge Rendell chaired for many years. Not wishing to comment on their personal issues, he said, "They've given a lot to the city and the state. I'm in full support of their decisions."

Some who have worked with both the former governor and his wife expressed confidence that the couple's high-powered two-pronged boosts to cultural projects like the Avenue of the Arts, the Kimmel Center, and the Barnes Foundation on the Parkway would continue.

"I think the Avenue of the Arts certainly wouldn't be where it is without the Rendells," said Karen Lewis, executive director of Avenue of the Arts, who also worked with Ed Rendell when he was mayor.

"While it may be sad news of their parting, it should be noted all the great things that they did and will continue to do, investing in Philadelphia and the region. I think they both love this city and have contributed greatly to the things that are here today, cultural, tourism, development."

Lewis said she expected to see the Rendells in future public settings, and would take them at their word and continue to invite both to Avenue of the Arts-related events. She said Midge Rendell continues to attend executive committee meetings, though she is chair emeritus, and stays actively connected.

Dorothy K. Phillips, a Philadelphia divorce lawyer, said often with public marriages, or when one spouse supports - financially and otherwise - another through campaigns and other public life, a deal is struck.

"With public couples like the Gores, they know that things have to stay in a certain position until certain political goals are met," she said, referring to former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, who like the Rendells split after 40 years of marriage.

"I feel that was done in the case of the Gores, that they made a deal and lived with it. I don't know whether that was a happy marriage or not. It accomplished what they wanted it to."

Phillips said it was not surprising that the Rendells would separate but not divorce.

"There's a huge amount of marital assets," she said. "If you get divorced, you whack them up. If you just live separately, then you have a situation where maybe you'll enter a private written agreement. I'm sure their son and heirs would be the likely beneficiaries, rather than if it was whacked up into some lawyer's hands."

Phillips, for one, said she was skeptical about the "invite both of us" postscript. "They might not find it awkward or uncomfortable, but maybe the other 100 or 200 people would," she said.

Corse said their high public profile and civic engagement makes their situation comparable to divorcing in a small town, where it's not practical or possible to truly separate and divide up friends and family, time and space.

"This is very typical in a small town," she said. "There's a high investment to continue to have a connected life, where they don't have to divide the town in half, or their family in half. I think it's very admirable that the Rendells can head into the next phase of their lives, in which they're choosing to live separately, and not have to divvy up their friends and family."

Public relations executive Dava Guerin agreed that the postscript of the e-mail - the "invite us both" - was a relief in the social circles the Rendells have flourished in.

"They've done so much together," she said. "They've been in all the same social circles. Philly, it's a fairly small town. They want people to know they don't have to choose. It's an incredibly mature thing, they're solving the problem before it even happens."

Ending a marriage as long as the Rendells' does not have to feel like a failure, Corse said, but more of a natural cycle to a new phase of life, especially one where both partners have economically secure and productive work and independent lives. In fact, their strong identities may embolden them to embark on separate futures.

"If you're looking at a marriage with long periods of health, but one in which the partnering of their lives together has run its course, or the intimacy has faded, there's a feeling that 'we share a history,' as opposed to 'we're excited about sharing a future,' " Corse said. "I think it can be easier for those relationships to come to some kind of quiet closure."

Although the announcement, with its bombshell-yet-not-bombshell news, seemed to surprise people, Corse said that it is likely the Rendells had worked many of their own difficulties about the decision out well in advance, and in private.

"When you're a public figure, you're the object of a tremendous amount of assumptions on the part of people who see you," she said. "Public couples become known by everyone. For them, they've kind of been untangling their lives for a while, sort of out of the public eye. In the process of untangling their lives . . . there's a lot of resolving of old tensions. So at the time you're separating, you're at peace with each other."


Contact staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 215-854-2681 or arosenberg@phillynews.com.

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