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Janet Ashcroft: In her own words

Janet Ashcroft, wife of Attorney General John Ashcroft, is a legal expert in her own right. She has taught business law and individual income tax at Howard University’s School of Business in Washington, D.C., and has taught law at colleges in Missouri where her husband served as state attorney general, governor and U.S. senator. In addition, she has been a general counsel for the Missouri Department of Revenue and co-authored two law textbooks with her husband, one of which is in its ninth edition.

"Nobody in my family could figure out why I wanted to study law," she admits with a laugh. "They thought something was wrong with me. There were no lawyers in the family before me; my father and brothers are engineers." Despite their misgivings, Charles and Martha Roede supported their daughter’s dream. Today, Janet Ashcroft looks back with gratitude to the start they gave her in life.

She and her husband, despite their demanding public lives, have also invested in their three children, raising them in church. The Ashcrofts are longtime members of the Assemblies of God and regularly attend Sunday school and services at Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo., when home from Washington, D.C. Janet Ashcroft recently spoke with Scott Harrup, associate editor, about faith, family life, September 11 and America’s future.

On meeting John Ashcroft…
John and I met in law school at the University of Chicago. I was studying in the law library before class and John came up and flipped his spiral notebook on the desk and said, "Hi, Janet. I’m John Ashcroft. How about going out with me this weekend?" He was very direct; it was a real change from the other approaches. Of course, I turned him down immediately. But he was very persistent. I ultimately went out with him sometime later. I was not about to go out with a total stranger and he said he might have been strange, but he wasn’t a total stranger anymore. We went to a Chicago Pops concert on our first date. We met in October of 1965 and were married in December of 1967.

From the first time I met him, I found John to be the kindest, most concerned person about other people I have ever met in my life. When I first started going out with him, one of the girls from his class stopped me to say that John was the nicest, kindest person. I said, "You don’t have to tell me that. I’ve already discovered it." Here is a guy who can’t stand to see someone walking along the highway with a gas can in his hand or by the side of a car with a flat tire.

It’s always been a challenge to make plans for our anniversaries because our anniversary is the 23rd of December. Especially now that our children have grown, it has been very special that they would come and spend Christmas with us. We hate to duck out just two days before Christmas, so we generally go somewhere with all the kids.

On family life in public service …
I think I viewed raising children the way a lot of people do — "My parents did a good job with me; this is not that big a job." John likes to say you’re really in trouble when the kids outnumber the parents. And we have three kids.

In our case, we had this strange life with a husband in politics. The normal family can have a schedule. They can find out when Johnny’s baseball game is and when Suzie’s ice-skating lesson is and go to them. We joke in our family about all of us having the same middle name, "Flexible." We all had to be very, very flexible, and the schedule frequently changed.

It’s amazing how God allows even difficult situations to bring beneficial results. So often we have a schedule or we have a project or an agenda, and we feel that if there’s any disruption in it, then there’s a serious problem. Our family’s lifestyle, with changes in schedule and crises at any time, made our children much more able to handle problems as adults. They saw how we handled problems. We didn’t become hysterical or basket cases, but we worked through them. So they had to learn to adjust. I think as a result they can handle life’s ups and downs much more easily as adults than if they had constantly been sheltered.

Our daughter, Martha Patterson, is 32 and living in Kansas City with her husband and our grandchild (who is the most spectacular grandchild in the world). Our son Jay (we call him "Jay" to distinguish him from his dad — his first name is John) is 28, an engineer and is teaching at Forrest Park Community College in St. Louis. And our son Andy is 24 and in the Navy and stationed in Jacksonville, Fla.

On the challenges of political life …
I think there are different kinds of pressure depending upon the individual involved. Some people will be more sensitive to one thing than to another. I didn’t like living in a house that wasn’t my own house. When we moved out of the governor’s mansion and moved into our own house, people would meet me and then say to John, "Janet looks so extremely happy." And John would say, "She is."

No matter what happens, God is in control. John wrote a song one time on that theme. No matter what troubles we have faced and no matter what bizarre circumstances, we knew God was in control. And I think you’d have to say we faced some extremely bizarre circumstances during the last year or so [with the unexpected upset in the Missouri U.S. senatorial race and the confirmation hearings for attorney general]. We trust God to provide. And not necessarily to provide what we think we want. I think that’s important for people to understand. We get our hearts set on something or we decide that this is exactly the way it has to be, and maybe God has a different plan. I would have been shocked if someone had told me around August before the election in 2000 that God’s plan was not that John would be re-elected to the Senate. When the election circumstances were so bizarre and it didn’t come out the way we expected, we just said, "Well, let’s see what God has in store for us now."

On September 11 …
I firmly believe God can turn every bad situation around and use it for something good. The events of September 11 have led to such a return to the need for faith. I don’t think John’s going to be criticized for having a Bible study in his office before work time anymore. And there is a renewed patriotism. When things go really well, we don’t value or recognize the value of some things that we take for granted – the strength of this country, the cohesiveness of this country, the neighborliness of this country. It reminds me of the stories you read about in American history books of people helping each other on the frontier. That’s exactly what this country has always been about, and it’s wonderful to see it happening in spite of the fact that we had to have a terrible tragedy.

On the power of prayer …
God has told us we need to turn from our wicked ways, but we have to pray as well (2 Chronicles 7:14). We need to continue to pray for this country and the leaders of this country. I’m very grateful that we have the people in government that we have today. Having spent some time with many of them, I’m very encouraged by their motives for being in government. They’re not there just because they want to tell everyone else how to live. They want to be there to do what is right. I’m very, very impressed about some who have made personal sacrifices to set the right example so we can get this country hopefully turned around and doing the right thing again.

On America’s future …
I’d like to see the American people have an ongoing, long-term realization of the need for the values that we have reembraced since September 11. It’s a terrible thing when God has to jerk us up short and say, "Remember what this is all about." I hope that this country can set itself up and set up a mechanism so that we don’t forget those events and that we remember that God is in control and that we owe our first allegiance to Him. I pray we continue to serve Him, because when we do, we will be blessed.

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