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Elizabeth Dole remembers her husband Bob Dole as being “a little bashful” the first time he ever called. They talked for 40 minutes and she was so smitten that she forgot she had a date waiting for her in the other room.
“The phone rang. I went back to my bedroom, answered the call. Forty minutes later, heaven knows what I told that guy when I went back into the living room!” she recalled to TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie during an exclusive interview with her husband.
The couple opened up about their courtship and the secret behind more than 43 years together as part of this week’s “Share the Love TODAY” series.
The pair met in 1972 and quickly became the quintessential Washington power couple. Bob Dole, a U.S. senator from Kansas, was a rising star in the Republican party. The former Elizabeth Hanford had recently graduated from Harvard Law School and was earning a reputation as a fierce consumer advocate.
The two met during a meeting at his Capitol Hill office.
“All of a sudden, the side door opens and in comes Bob Dole. And I look up and I think, ‘Gee, he's a good-looking guy,’” recalled Elizabeth, 82. “And he says he wrote my name on the back of his blotter.”
But Bob didn’t ask her out until the third time they spoke over the phone.
“I really liked that a lot, because I realized he's not some guy chasing women around Capitol Hill,” Elizabeth said.
Bob, 95, chimed: “I never did that — couldn't catch 'em anyway.”
The couple married three years later. It was his second marriage and her first.
Elizabeth said she fell for his kindness.
“I love his compassionate heart. And the fact that he loved to feel that each day he could make a difference for at least one person in need,” she said. “And I loved the fact that he had such a great sense of humor.”
The couple shared many laughs but very few fights over the decades.
“Believe it or not, we have never had a serious argument,” Elizabeth insisted.
Not even when each put his and her career on hold to support the other during separate runs for the White House. Elizabeth, a Transportation Secretary under President Ronald Reagan and Labor Secretary under President George H.W. Bush, especially got criticism when she paused her career to accompany her husband on the campaign trail.
“Some of the women's organizations really chastised me at the time and said, ‘Why are you doing this? You're giving up your career,’” she said. “My response was, ‘Because this is my choice. This is what I choose to do.’"
Ultimately, Bob went on to become the 1996 Republican presidential nominee but lost to Bill Clinton. Elizabeth also ran for president, but she dropped out of the 2000 race prior to any campaign primaries.
Asked for the advice they would give young couples starting out their lives, Bob said it would be to pay attention to the other.
“You need to focus on your partner's interest, not your own, but what she or he may be doing or may have done that you can talk about,” he said.
Elizabeth Dole agreed.
“Stay attuned to your spouse's particular likes, things that turns him on. What does he like, you know?” she said. “And then plan some great surprises.”
One of biggest ones she planned for him came right after Bob was elected Senate majority leader in 1984.
"I got a miniature schnauzer from the Humane Society and walked into his national press conference with this little dog with a big sign 'Leader' around his neck, and presented him to Bob," she said.
Leader's descendants and his namesake live with the Doles today, a lasting symbol of their love and devotion to each other.