Who Is Holly Petraeus? The Scorned General's Wife Isn't All She Seems

holly petraeusAs the Petraeus sex scandal continues to spiral, there's one person I keep wondering about: David's wife of 37 years, Holly Petraeus. How is she taking this scandal? Is she furious, heartbroken -- is she surprised? Did she ever suspect her husband was fooling around?

You've seen the photos of Holly: A grandmotherly woman with a gray bob and swept bangs, almost always smiling, glasses perched on her nose. She reminds me of oatmeal cookies -- sweet, wholesome, and a little old-fashioned. But dainty? Forget it. Behind that kind smile is a woman made of iron. She's an Army wife. Not just an Army wife, but a four-star General's wife who's managed to forge her own path and identity.


Holly is what they call military royalty. Her father is retired four-star General William Knowlton, formerly the superintendent of the United States Military Academy when Petraeus was a cadet there. He also served as a NATO commander. Holly's ancestors fought in the Civil War, Spanish American War, and the Indian Wars.

She met David as a student when she was visiting her family from Dickinson College. A family friend set her up on a blind date with David to attend a football game. Friends like to say there were 4,000 boys at West Point with just one superintendent's daughter -- and David won her. In 37 years as a couple, they had two kids and moved 24 times. Fellow Army wife Bethanne Patrick says there's a saying, "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one." It speaks to the sacrifices military wives make. After 9/11 David went on four tours abroad and Holly saw him more often on TV than in real life.

For years as a general's wife, she stood to greet troops at countless arrivals, no matter the time or the weather. She was affectionately dubbed a "hangar rat" for always being there for the troops. When David returned from Iraq in 2008, he called Holly "the greatest source of support, wise counsel, and love that any soldier could have."

Over the years she became concerned over how often predatory businesses prey upon military families. A whopping 27 percent of military households have $10,000 or more in debt compared with 16 percent of Americans. So Holly headed up a Better Business Bureau for the U.S. Army. Her office managed to recoup over $130,000 for military consumers. And she helped create a database that kept track of persistent scammers. A former colleague at BBB once said of her, "She’s Mom, apple pie, and also a pit bull."

Elizabeth Warren liked Holly's work and appointed her to head the Office of Servicemember Affairs for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Her job there is to help "service members and their families make good financial decisions, and, when they don't, trying to stop those who prey on them."

And that's Holly's legacy. I believe that she's "furious" with her husband. She's also hurt. But whatever she does, whether she stands by her man or walks away, I think she's tough enough to weather this scandal with her soul and her self worth intact.

How would you be feeling now if you were Holly Petraeus?


Image via Secretary of Defense/Flickr

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