William Jefferson Blythe Jr.
William Jefferson Blythe Jr.
William Jefferson Blythe Jr.
February 27, 1918
|Died||May 17, 1946 (aged 28)|
Sikeston, Missouri, U.S.
|Cause of death||Drowning in car accident|
|Resting place||Rose Hill Cemetery, Hope, Arkansas, United States|
|Employer||Manbee Equipment Company,|
|Known for||Biological father of Bill Clinton|
|Parent(s)||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 father of Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States. Blythe died three months before his son was born.
William Jefferson Blythe Jr. was born as one of nine children to William Jefferson Blythe Sr. (1884–1935), a farmer in Sherman, Texas, and his wife, the former Lou Birchie Ayers (1893–1946). He was of English and Scots descent, with family lines in North America since the days of the thirteen colonies.
Blythe was married four times. 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. However, she 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 on June 17, 1938, some eighteen months after his parents had been divorced. Henry's parents lost touch with each other when he was an infant, after his father briefly married and divorced his mother's sister, and he never knew his biological father or paternal siblings. Later in life, Henry Leon Blythe took the name Henry Leon Ritzenthaler in honor of a step-father. He ran several small businesses in Paradise, California, including a janitorial business, and died 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 them was remarked upon.
Blythe next married Minnie Faye Gash, his first wife's sister, in December 1940. The marriage was annulled only four months later, in April 1941, and there were no children. Shortly after the annulment, on May 3, 1941, Blythe married again. His third 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 2016. Blythe and Wanetta were formally divorced three years later, in April 1944. They lost touch immediately afterwards; Wanetta, who eventually settled in Tucson, Arizona, had no inkling of Blythe's subsequent history until the presidential campaign of 1992 and the 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.
Blythe's divorce from Wanetta Alexander was granted in court on April 13, 1944. Seven months before that, on September 4, 1943, Blythe had bigamously "married" Virginia Dell Cassidy of Bodcaw, Arkansas. Blythe and Cassidy remained married until his death in a car crash on May 17, 1946. Three months after Blythe's death, on August 19, 1946, Cassidy gave birth to their only child, William Jefferson Blythe III, who as a teen took his stepfather's surname and became known as Bill Clinton, the future 42nd President of the United States. Cassidy 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.
Blythe was a traveling heavy equipment salesman for most of his brief career. It was while he worked as a travelling salesman that he met and married all his four wives. Some time after his fourth wedding, which happened in September 1943, Blythe shipped out for military service during World War II. He was stationed in Egypt and Italy. He worked in a motor pool, 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. 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.
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.
- Andrews, Edmund L. (June 21, 1993). "Clinton Reported to Have A Brother He Never Met". The New York Times.
- "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."
- Henry Leon Ritzenthaler, 1938-2009
- Andrews, Edmund (June 21, 1993). "Clinton Reported to Have A Brother He Never Met". The New York Times.
- Gross, Jane (June 22, 1993). "Clinton's Lost Half-Brother? To Neighbors, He's Just Leon". The New York Times.
- "Biography of William J. Clinton". White House. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
- "The Clinton Family Bio". CNN.
- Weingarten, Gene (June 1993). "The First Father". The Washington Post;
- Maraniss, David (1996). First in His Class: Biography of Bill Clinton. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81890-6;
- Clinton, William Jefferson (2004). My Life. Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-179527-3. pp. 4–7.