Editorial: ‘First gentleman’ in need of some modernization
Among the most interesting announcements to come out of the governor’s office in recent weeks was the one heralding the work of the Gov. Maggie Hassan’s husband, Tom, who recently launched a campaign to highlight volunteerism across New Hampshire. He’ll be traveling to each of the state’s 10 counties and visiting with worthy volunteer organizations: the Humane Society in Lebanon, a teen safety group in Derry, an adult day center in Salem, a river restoration organization in Northumberland, for starters.
This sort of effort is commendable, but what caught our attention was his official title: first gentleman, as in New Hampshire First Gentleman Tom Hassan.
Really? We’re used to hearing the term “first lady,” of course, at both the state and federal levels. But somehow the novelty (still) of the governor’s spouse being a man makes the title – both titles, now that you mention it – sound strange and old-fashioned and in need of some 21st-century updating.
First gentleman? Doesn’t it sound like the title for a butler? Or perhaps a minor character from the Downton Abbey series? (Don’t look now, Lady Mary, but the first gentleman has arrived in the parlor! And he’s not wearing a white tie!)
Admittedly, there aren’t too many good options.
At the turn of the century, Billy Shaheen, whose wife Jeanne was New Hampshire governor (and now a U.S. senator), liked to call himself the First Hunk, but that wouldn’t work well in official press releases, would it?
In Washington state, Mike Gregoire, husband of former governor Chris Gregoire, sometimes called himself First Mike, which strikes us as a little ridiculous.
In New Mexico, where Gov. Susana Martinez’s husband, Chuck Franco, previously held titles ranging from game warden to undersheriff to magistrate judge, he is now called the first gentleman, just like Tom Hassan.
In Britain, the husband of a reigning queen is the “prince consort,” though that doesn’t sound like it would catch on here. Neither does the Australian version: Former prime minister Julia Gillard’s husband was called the “first bloke.”
Back in 2007, when the world figured Hillary Clinton was about to take the White House (Remember that?), columnists were fretting about what we would call her husband, Bill. Among the sillier options: Mister First Lady, First Ladyboy, First Laddy.
Tom Hassan, needless to say, is an impressive, accomplished person, wholly separate from his spouse’s achievement. The principal at Phillips Exeter Academy, he is a nationally recognized leader in secondary education. He has degrees from Brown and Harvard and worked at both universities before coming to Exeter.
Recent first ladies have been no slouches either. Consider attorney Michelle Obama and Dr. Susan Lynch, for starters.
The New Hampshire Constitution declares that the governor shall be referred to as “Her Excellency” – well, actually, “His Excellency,” but that’s the gist. There’s no mention of the first spouse and apparently nothing wrong with a bit of modernization.
Our suggestion: Ditch the titles – first lady, first gentleman, first family, you name it – for everyone but the governor who did, after all, earn it.
Introducing Her Excellency, Gov. Maggie Hassan, and her husband, Tom Hassan.
Who could object to that?