William Jefferson Blythe Jr.

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William Jefferson Blythe Jr.
William J Blythe Jr.jpg
William Jefferson Blythe Jr.

(1918-02-27)February 27, 1918
DiedMay 17, 1946(1946-05-17) (aged 28)
Cause of deathDrowning in car accident
Resting placeRose Hill Cemetery, Hope, Arkansas, U.S.
33°40′43″N 93°35′26″W / 33.6786°N 93.5906°W / 33.6786; -93.5906
OccupationTraveling salesman,
EmployerManbee Equipment Company,
U.S. Army
Known forBiological father of Bill Clinton
Virginia Adele Gash
(m. 1935; div. 1936)
Maxine Hamilton
(m. 1938; div. 1938)
Minnie Faye Gash
(m. 1940; ann. 1941)
Wanetta Ellen Alexander
(m. 1941; div. 1944)
(m. 1943)
  • Henry Leon Ritzenthaler (1938–2009)
  • Sharon Lee Pettijohn (b. 1941)
  • Bill Clinton (b. 1946, posthumously)
  • William Jefferson Blythe Sr.
  • Lou Birchie Ayers

William Jefferson Blythe Jr. (February 27, 1918 – May 17, 1946) was an Arkansas salesman of heavy equipment and the biological father of Bill Clinton.[1] Blythe died three months before his son was born.

Personal life[edit]

William Jefferson Blythe Jr. was one of nine children born to William Jefferson Blythe Sr. (1884–1935), a farmer in Sherman, Texas, and his wife, the former Lou Birchie Ayers (1893–1946). Blythe Sr. was of English and Scottish descent, with a family tree in North America since the days of the thirteen colonies.[2]

Blythe was married five times.[3] He married for the first time in December 1935 to Virginia Adele Gash; they were divorced only thirteen months later. Although no child was born to the couple during their marriage, they later had a son together. After the divorce, Virginia moved to California and married first a man named Coffelt, then a man named Charles Ritzenthaler. Blythe married his second wife 21-year-old Maxine Hamilton in August 1938, whom he divorced two weeks later.[4] However, Virginia and Blythe remained friends, and she visited him on occasion. A son was conceived during these visits, and Henry Leon Blythe was born in Sherman, Texas in January 1938,[5] eighteen months after his parents had been divorced. Henry's parents lost touch with each other when he was an infant, after William Jr. briefly married and divorced Virginia Gash's sister. He never knew his biological father or paternal siblings. Later in life, Henry Leon Blythe took the name Henry Leon Ritzenthaler in honor of his stepfather. Henry ran several small businesses in Paradise, California, including a janitorial business, dying in 2009. He was unaware of his connection to the future president until the presidential campaign of 1992, when an investigation by The Washington Post, based on birth registry records, revealed details of Bill Clinton's family. Ritzenthaler met his half-brother for the first time around that time, and the physical resemblance between the two was remarkable.[6]

Blythe next married Minnie Faye Gash, his first wife's sister, in December 1940. The marriage was annulled four months later in April 1941, without children. Shortly after the annulment on May 3, 1941, Blythe married again. His fourth wife was Wanetta Ellen Alexander of Kansas City, Missouri, and the wedding was held in Jackson County, Missouri. Wanetta gave birth to Blythe's daughter on May 11, 1941, eight days after their wedding. She had become pregnant with Blythe's child prior to his short-lived second marriage to Minnie. Sharon Lee Blythe Pettijohn is the daughter of Wanetta and Blythe, and is still alive in 2020. Blythe and Wanetta were formally divorced three years later, in April 1944, and lost touch immediately afterward. Wanetta, who eventually settled in Tucson, Arizona, had no inkling of Blythe's subsequent history until the presidential campaign of 1992 and a Washington Post story. Upon seeing old photographs of Bill Clinton's father flashed on TV, Wanetta "swears on a stack of Bibles ... that that was the man she was married to", said her son-in-law Bob Pettijohn, husband of her daughter Sharon.[citation needed]

Blythe's divorce from Wanetta was granted in court on April 13, 1944. Seven months prior on September 4, 1943, Blythe had bigamously "married" Virginia Dell Cassidy of Bodcaw, Arkansas. Blythe and Virginia remained married until his death in a car crash on May 17, 1946. Three months after Blythe's death on August 19, 1946, Virginia gave birth to their only child, William Jefferson Blythe III. Bill, as a teen, took his stepfather's surname and became known as Bill Clinton, the future 42nd President of the United States. Virginia Blythe-Clinton had no knowledge of Blythe's previous marriages until decades later when The Washington Post ran an extensive story in 1993, based on birth and marriage registry records, to mark Father's Day.[7][8]


Blythe was a traveling heavy equipment salesman for most of his brief career.[9] It was while he worked as a travelling salesman that he met and married all his four wives. After his fifth wedding in September 1943, Blythe shipped out for military service in World War II. He was stationed in Egypt and Italy. He worked in a motor pool as a mechanic, repairing jeeps and tanks.

After the war ended, Blythe returned to Hope, Arkansas to be with his wife. Shortly after he returned, he purchased a house in Chicago and readied it to receive his wife and expected child; he was apparently laying the ground for a more settled and conventional married life. Blythe moved to the new house in Chicago while Virginia remained behind in Hope. In Chicago, Blythe returned to his old job as a traveling salesman for the Manbee Equipment Company, which repaired heavy machinery. He died three months before the birth of his son.


On May 17, 1946, while traveling from Chicago, Illinois, to Hope, Arkansas, Blythe lost control of his 1942 Buick on U.S. Route 60 outside of Sikeston, Missouri after one of his car's tires blew out. He survived the accident after being thrown from the car, but drowned in a drainage ditch as he tried to pull his way out of the three feet (1 meter) of water in the ditch.[10] Three months later, Blythe's widow, Virginia, gave birth to their son, whom she named William Jefferson Blythe III in honor of his father and grandfather. In 1950, Blythe's widow married Roger Clinton Sr.; 12 years later, Blythe's posthumous son legally adopted his stepfather's surname. He has a granddaughter Chelsea Clinton, and 3 great-grandchildren.


Blythe was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Hope, Hempstead County, Arkansas. In 1994, Virginia was interred beside him. In Clinton's 2004 autobiography, My Life, the elder Blythe was extensively mentioned, including a visit that Clinton made to the site where his father drowned.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Andrews, Edmund L. (June 21, 1993). "Clinton Reported to Have A Brother He Never Met". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "The Ancestors of President Bill Clinton (b. 1946)", by William Addams Reitwiesner stating : "The following material on the immediate ancestry of Bill Clinton is taken almost verbatim from Gary Boyd Roberts, Ancestors of American Presidents, First Authoritative Edition. Santa Clarita, Cal.: Boyer, 1995."
  3. ^ Nigel Hamilton, Bill Clinton: An American Journey: Great Expecations (New York: Random House, 2003), 27.
  4. ^ Hamilton, Bill Clinton, 27.
  5. ^ Hamilton, Bill Clinton, 27.
  6. ^ Henry Leon Ritzenthaler, 1938-2009
  7. ^ Andrews, Edmund (June 21, 1993). "Clinton Reported to Have A Brother He Never Met". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Gross, Jane (June 22, 1993). "Clinton's Lost Half-Brother? To Neighbors, He's Just Leon". The New York Times.
  9. ^ "Biography of William J. Clinton". White House. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  10. ^ "The Clinton Family Bio". CNN.
  • Clinton, William Jefferson (2004). My Life. Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-179527-3. pp. 4–7.
  • Hamilton, Nigel (2003). Bill Clinton: An American Journey: Great Expectations. Random House. ISBN 0-375-50610-1
  • Maraniss, David (1996). First in His Class: Biography of Bill Clinton. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81890-6
  • Weingarten, Gene (June 1993). "The First Father". The Washington Post

External links[edit]