Jo McKenzie, Restaurateur, by David Fink

“She has been in the thick of it for years.

Her battle scars, which she wears very well, were collected in the rabbit-punch, scrape-for-contribution wars of Connecticut Republican politics.

She was the party’s first woman state chairman, its first woman finance chairman.

And now, even as she sits resplendent in her fine black suit and pearls, her graying hair perfectly coiffed, primly and properly waiting for the patrons to arrive at her very fashionable Robert Henry’s restaurant in New Haven, it is still easy to detect the political twinkle in Jo McKenzie’s eye.

She has partied with the Republicans and mourned with them. She was very close to the late U.S. Rep. Stewart McKinney and has known the vice president for decades.

‘George?’ she responds. ‘There’s a definite sentimental attachment. I know him and Mrs. Bush. They’re lovely people. They don’t forget you. They’ve remembered me in good times and bad. A note, a phone call, a letter.’

The Republican religion, for her, is less blind faith than memorable times with the family.

‘It’s something you grow up with,’ says McKenzie. ‘You start working as a child as a volunteer and you don’t leave. Something drastic would have to happen for me to do that. I’m not saying I’ve liked every one of our candidates. But you can’t expect any candidate to be all things to all people. I’m not, either.’

Born in Hartford, raised for a time in Nashville, educated at Briarcliff College in New York and now living in Madison, she has been a businesswoman of some stature, owning the Copper Beach Inn in Ivoryton and the Inn at Mill River in Stamford before Robert Henry’s.

She has been too independent over the years to embrace everything and everyone Republican. If the GOP platform were her kitchen floor, she would yank out a few planks, but live with the mess.

‘I’m a moderate Republican, strong on fighting AIDS, I want a strong housing program and I’m not pro-life, I’m for choice,’ she says. ‘But the Republicans are more fiscally responsible. And I think the Reagan years have been good, not perfect, but damn good.’

Robert Henry’s keeps her busy, but she manages to read ‘a few fast summer books’ and occasionally makes it to a play or the symphony in the nearby theater district.

She is very close to her three daughters and her husband, Bob. ‘The little time I do have, I spend at home,’ she says.

But she vows to ‘raise a lot of money’ for Bush, insisting a loss to the Democrats in Connecticut this fall would be devastating to party morale.

And, she says, she still loves a good fight.”
-excerpt and (top) image courtesy of the Hartford Courant, “3 Delegates: The 35 state delegates to the Republican National Convention go to New Orleans with hundreds of years of cumulative experience. They share a common allegiance despite different roots,” profile of Jo McKenzie by David Fink, Sunday, August 14, 1988

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