Lady Bird Johnson lived for nearly 44 years after her husband left the Vice Presidency following John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. That is the longest a former Second Lady of the United States has lived after leaving office.
The second longest tenure as a former Second Lady belongs to a New Jerseyan, Jennie Tuttle Hobart, who died in 1941 — 42 years after the death of her husband, Garrett Hobart.
Hobart began a career in politics two years after their marriage in 1869. He served as Paterson City Attorney and as Counsel to the Passaic County Board of Freeholders before winning a State Assembly seat in 1872. He became Assembly Speaker in 1874 and won election to the State Senate in 1876; he was Senate President in 1881 and 1882. He was the Republican National Committeeman from New Jersey from 1884 to 1896.
The 1896 Republican National Convention featured a floor fight between two presidential candidates, Ohio Governor William McKinley and Maine’s Thomas Reed, the Speaker of the House. The New Jersey delegation was evenly split between the two — Hobart was an early backer of four-term U.S. Senator William Boyd Allison of Iowa for President, but later switched to McKinley — but New Jersey to the McKinley column after commitments to back Hobart for the Vice Presidency.
(Reed’s state campaign chairman was former Congressman John Kean, the great-uncle of future Governor Thomas Kean, Sr.)
Hobart and Kean were political rivals. Hobart was the Campaign Manager for John Griggs in the 1895 Republican gubernatorial primary. (Griggs resigned as Governor in 1898 to become McKinley’s Attorney General). Kean was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1899 — a seat that Hobart was interested in before becoming Vice President.
Hobart served as Vice President for just 32 months before he passed away at age 55. He had been ill for a few weeks and died of angina pectoris — today a treatable condition. Had Hobart lived, he would have become President in September 1901 following McKinley’s assassination. Instead, McKinley’s 1900 running mate, Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded to the presidency.
Second Lady Trivia for extreme junkies only: Franklin Roosevelt’s first Vice President, John Nance Garner, began his political career in 1893, at age 25, as a candidate for Uvalde County (Texas) Judge. His first electoral victory, in the Democratic primary, was against Mariette Rheiner, the 24-year-old daughter of a prominent local rancher. That campaign could not have been terribly contentious: two years later, Garner and Rheiner were married.