2 Oct

NJ Governor Chris Christie (undated)

I had a wonderful conversation with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s father, Mr. Wilbur (Bill) Christie.  As you may know, Chris Christie was strongly favored for Republican VP candidate until recently.  Governor Christie, by all accounts, declined the honor, saying he has his hands full meeting his commitment to his New Jersey constituents.  There is widespread speculation, meanwhile, that in four years he may enter the race as a presidential contender.  Moreover, he presented the keynote address at this year’s Republican National Convention on August 28th, in Tampa, Florida – a huge honor, and one many said spring-boarded President Obama’s successful campaign.  This blog, however, is NOT about politics, it’s about leaders in their own fields, and their parents’ insights into what makes them who they are today.

For a 79 year-old man, Mr. Christie, a self-described “wonk”, has an acute memory with a keen recall for dates, names and anecdotes.  An open and down-to-earth man, I can see where the Governor gets his likability.  Bill was forthcoming about everything from Christopher’s birth (natural, after seven hours labor) to his girth (Chris is otherwise healthy).

I explained the nature of my call – my exploration of how excellence is nurtured – and Bill jumped right in.  He plied me with story after story of Governor Christie’s childhood.  He’s understandably proud of his children, bragging about each of them unabashedly but attributing his wife’s efforts to how well they’ve turned out.  He credits Chris’ leadership abilities on being a first child, but won’t pin-point any one thing he thinks makes him who he is today.  Chris, he said, took the responsibility of being the big brother seriously and tried always to be a role model.  His sister, nine years younger, considers him her second father.  The Governor and his brother are close, almost best friends, and have been tight since they were small boys.

I had heard that Chris had been school president, and I asked about this:  not only had he been school president but he had been class president consecutively for years.  He was an active presence who effected policy and stood by his principles.  Bill tells of Chris getting the graduation ceremony moved to outside as he felt the auditorium was too casual and did not allow for the formal seriousness of the event.  He also recounted the story where the new school Head ended a long-standing tradition of displaying the number of graduates on the roof of the school.  The numbers were removed, but sure enough before long, they “magically” appeared again.  Eventually the tradition was allowed to stand.  Bill didn’t come right out and say it, but I got the sense Chris had something to do with those numbers reappearing!  Traditions mattered to young Chris, maybe because that was instilled at home.  For instance, the family always had dinner together when the kids were still at home, and even when Chris became US Att’y, he and his dad kept a weekly lunch date.

Bill and Sandy (as he calls his first wife, now deceased), said “No”, a lot, but said “Yes” often enough.  Here’s his take on bringing up Chris and his brother:

“The main thing about raising boys is you can scare them. I mean, you could. I could scare them both. I might get cross, and I’d be looking, and they said they could tell, my eyes started bulging, that it was time to be quiet,” Bill said. “Sandy was the same way. Sandy was tough on them, so that made it easy for us”.

Bill was a CPA who got his degree on the GI Bill and Sandy was a stay-at-home mom until Chris was in college when she returned to work to help out with tuition costs. Mr. Christie coached soft-ball, but preferred not to coach his own boys, as he didn’t want to appear biased; but I hear the pride in his voice as he remarks that both boys were good players.  Christopher was starter until a new kid moved into the neighborhood and was given that position.  Chris, while crushed, to the point where he even considered quitting the team, stuck it out and was the biggest cheerleader when they won.  Bill used this to illustrate Chris’ team spirit, and unselfish nature.  He also reflected that Chris asked for his advice but he demurred, letting Chris know it was solely his judgment call.

Star Ledger File Photo

Baby Chris, 1963

He chuckled as he remembered little Chris, whom he said was always “mature” for his age:  being the firstborn he was mostly privy to adult company and adult conversations, and as a toddler he inserted himself into that world instead of hanging with kids his age.  Bill also fondly remembers Chris’ bedtime.  Like most five year olds, he liked being read to, but in addition to the usual fairytales, one of Chris’ favorites was a biography of Thomas Edison, which Bill read almost nightly for young Chris.

Respect, it seems, is a recurring theme in the family.  On reflecting on that, the older Christie suspects this comes from Chris’ exposure to the Italian side of his family, his mother’s side, who would tell family tales of Sicilian respect and principles.  In fact, I quoted him an excerpt I’d read about Chris and his mother and he confirmed this was a conversation they had regularly.  Bill remembered the quote and even the source ,“As long as you get respect from people, everything else follows.” and I was again impressed by his memory.

One thing I didn’t know about Governor Christie was his long-time friendship with one of my favorite authors, Harlan Coben, a liberal who grew up in the same neighborhood at the same time as Christopher.  Bill drew my attention to this New York Times op-ed, wherein Mr. Coben recounts his first day on the team, when Chris was the first to walk over, greet him and introduce himself.  They remained lifelong friends, in spite of the different trajectories of their lives and their polemic political positions.

I was particularly touched by two reminiscences Bill shared with me.  One I can relate fully, the other he asked for my discretion in repeating:  Even a few years after his wife (and his children’s mom) died, Bill still felt lost.  He didn’t do much and certainly didn’t think about dating.  Chris picked him up one day (maybe for one of their lunch dates) and as they’re driving, Chris says to him, “Dad, I’ve spoken to the others, and we’re all okay if you want to date again”.

Bill choked up, as he had felt that to think about such a thing would have been a betrayal to his family.  Yet here was Chris, letting him know it was alright to get on with his life.  It was shortly after this that he met his second wife, Fran.  The other incident has more to do with Chris’ life and arose when I asked Bill if he had any regrets in the way he brought Chris up.  He describes an occasion when Chris came to him for approval for an important pending emotional decision, and according to him, his response was harsh because it came from a practical, not emotional, point of view.  Chris was hurt and it showed, but went ahead with his choice. Bill says he’s always been sorry for his gut reaction, though Chris has never held it against him.  And, Chris’ decision has held up nicely for a couple decades and continues to do so!!!

Bill’s favorite story about his eldest child occurred when Chris was in college. And while I’ve been unable to verify this myself, Bill says that Chris, upon realizing that late graduates from Uni. Of Delaware missed the June graduation ceremony, initiated a request for a second graduation, now known as the Winter Graduation.  Chris felt it was unfair for students who had worked just as hard to be omitted from this momentous rite of passage, so got the Uni. Of Delaware to approve another ceremony for these graduates.  Bill believes this example speaks to Chris’ compassion, and his desire to right any perceived wrongs.

After over an hour of chatting, my take-away from my conversation with Bill Christie was this:  Gov. Christie grew up in a middle-class home, with middle class values.  His parents were involved but knew when to keep their distance.  They instilled in their kids team spirit, loyalty, ambition, responsibility, compassion, leadership and independence.  According to Ingle and Symons, in Chris Christie:  The Inside Story of His Rise to Power, the Governor says this about his parents, and his father especially,

Star Ledger

The Christie Family (undated)

“This is what you need to understand: While my father is a wonderful guy and incredibly successful in his career, my father was merely a passenger in the automobile of life. You have a Sicilian mother, she drives the car. You’ll notice all the different bits of advice I’m giving you are coming from my mother. Not because my father didn’t give great advice, he just couldn’t get it in.””

This formula seemed to have worked for the Christies, Bill is inordinately proud of his children and of the fact that Governor Christie believes his upbringing is what made him the man he is today.  For more scientific minds, below are some basic stats on the governor which may have contributed to his special formula:

DOB:  September 6, 1962

Place of Birth:  Newark, NJ

Complications at birth: premature, by six weeks

Birth:  natural, 7 hours labor

Birthweight:  5lb., 3oz

Breast or bottle:  bottle

Talked when: early, sang his own first happy birthday

Walked when:  16 months

Potty trained when:  late

Siblings:  1 brother and 1 (adopted) sister

Birth order:  first born

Raised in: Livingston, NJ, (moved at 5 years old)

Race: White, Scottish, Irish, and Sicilian descent

Looks:  Takes after his mother

Religion:  Catholic

College:  University of Delaware with a Bachelor of Arts in political science in 1984

Grad School:  Seton Hall University School of Law with a Juris Doctor in 1987


  1. Shelly October 2, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Very Nice. Can I make a request? I wanna hear from Taylor Townsend’s mom. Thank you….:) Again, what an awesome concept. I keep thinking of more andmore people I wanna hear from. Oh also Richard Williams.

    • whatstheformulablog October 2, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      Thanks, Missy. I’ll try for Taylor and Richard — no promises! I appreciate your stopping by and commenting!

  2. Joyce October 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    I hadn’t seen much of Chris Christie until the RNC…he is very engaging as from what I understand, well liked in his state and his party.

    This is a great project…thanks for doing this!

    • whatstheformulablog October 2, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

      he was featured last night as he commented on the upcoming debates, but yes — he’s been pretty low-keyed. Please stop by again. Thanks.

  3. A Dog With Fleas October 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    Thanks for this wonderful blog about Governor Christie!! I am from the great state of New Jersey and am proud to call this man my Governor. He is a no-nonsense man, (which sometimes gets him in trouble) but also what makes him beloved by so many. With NJ being such a Democratic-leaning state by nature, it just proves how much he is liked and loved in New Jersey.

    His upbringing had everything to do with it, and I’m glad your post shows an inside look at a man maybe not many knew about.

    Also, thanks for looking at my blog. By doing so, it brought me to yours and I will definitely be back. This is a great concept and can’t wait to catch up with it.

    • whatstheformulablog October 2, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Please do come back soon.

  4. Carla October 3, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Behind most great men there is definitely an even greater woman as both Governor Christie and his father has stated. A wonderful job once again.

    • whatstheformulablog October 3, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      ain’t that the truth!!!! thanks for stopping by again. come back soon.

  5. hyie October 5, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    Not sure I liked Christie before this – I have a modified opinion after this but can’t say I’m totally sold – expecially on the idea of presidency…

    • whatstheformulablog October 5, 2012 at 9:56 am #

      Yes, it shows we can all come together afterall. I was surprised he’s great friends with Harlan Coben who’s a true liberal, but they’ve agreed to respect their differences for the sake of friendship. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Natalie M December 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    I would love to be able to cite your blog for a paper on Christie I’m doing, but I can seem to find the name of the author for this article.

    • whatstheformulablog December 10, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

      Hi Natalie, that would be swell. You don’t need to cite the author’s name, just the blog. According to, here’s the proper citation for the Christie piece:

      CHRISTIE FOR PRESIDENT! LIVINGSTON HIGH ’78, ’79, ’80.” Whats the Formula. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

  7. Point Pleasant February 13, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

    He deserves everything in life he gave everyone else. All the chickens are coming home to roost. It couldn’t happen to a “nicer” guy.

  8. MDiallo February 16, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    During his term as Governor, Christie delivered balanced budgets annually for the state as required by the New Jersey Constitution. He claims to have done so without increasing taxes, though this has been debated as he has made reductions to tax credits such as the earned income tax credit and property tax relief programs.

    Hurricane Sandy emergency relief bill
    On December 28, 2012, the U.S. Senate approved an emergency relief bill to provide $60 billion for states affected by Hurricane Sandy,[91] but the House (in effect) postponed action until the next session (which began January 3) by adjourning without voting on the bill. On January 2, Christie criticized the postponement as “selfishness and duplicity” that was “disgusting to watch”, saying there was “only one group to blame, the Republican Party and Speaker Boehner.

    What do you think of the information in the blog:
    The information on this blog portrays Christie as a responsible man who made a Mistake.
    what do you think of Christie himself:
    I think he is a happy face with a hidden agenda. He got what he deserves. I never liked the guy, He is like Bush.
    what about the current controversy surrounding his office:
    From September 9 through September 13, 2013, two of the traffic lanes used by Fort Lee, NJ and surrounding communities for access to the George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee to New York City, were closed on orders from a senior Christie aide and an administration appointee. I think he and his people have been involved in corruption long before that, The guy is arrogant and thinks he could do anything he wants. He is the wrong guy in office. He is Jerk!

    • whatstheformulablog February 16, 2014 at 11:04 am #

      MDiallo, thanks for your insights into Gov. Christie’s dealings as governor!

  9. Michael Rivera February 18, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

    The information on the blog about Governor Chris Christie, told by his father (Mr. Wilbur Christie) is a very proud example of how any parent would want their children to succeed in early and adult life situations.
    As for Chris Christie, being a role model to his younger siblings as well as showing leadership in school and through- out his high school and college days, does show incredible strength and determination.
    In my opinion, His parents definitely deserve plenty of credit in their handling of their children’s upbringing.
    What do I think about the controversy surrounding his office?
    I get it, that he is knowledgeable in politics and he has made a name for himself as a district attorney turn Governor but he has clashed and treated school teachers, reporters and even some constituents of his ,very badly. He definitely sounds and acts like the bully everyone that encounters him in debate makes him out to be. As for the bridge scandal, there seems to be more proof that Chris Christie knew more , then he actually admitted to the public.

  10. Mafata Donzo February 20, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    I think cris Christie is an intelligent guy and his parents were a huge influence in his life. Bering a governor is not an easy task and I think so far he’s done a tremendous job except for a fact that his own people want to tarnish his reputation

  11. Pat Hansen February 20, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    I think that Governor Chris Christie makes me proud to be living in New Jersey. He stands up for what he believes and wants to make New Jersey proud. His grandparents and his mom must be smiling up in heaven and very proud of him and his family in what a great job he is doing in New Jersey.

  12. jessica kent February 27, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    I think Governor Christie is an intelligent guy and his parents were a huge influence in his life. Being a governor is not an easy task however, I think so far he’s done a tremendous job. I believe that Governor Christie and his upbringing is what made him the man he is today. his father also gave him that motivation to be whatever he wanted to be and never to give up, he pushed for what he wanted. – Jessica K.

  13. Darleen Cruz February 27, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    It’s good to know that our Governor was brought out in a supportive and healthy family lifestyle. Its good to know that his parents were just supportive bystanders to what Chris Christie wanted to do in his life. With the details given in the blog about Governor Christies educational experience and athletic drive is inspirational. Political leaders aren’t perfect but it shows that Governor Christie works hard at everything he tries to accomplish in life. His family orientation is a plus.

  14. Niki L February 27, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    I believe Governor Christie is an extremely intelligent man. I can see that his parents have has a huge influence on him growing up into the man that he has became as an adult. It seems like his wife has even helped him through school as well as his adulthood.- NikiL

  15. Darleen C. February 27, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    It is refreshing to know that our Governor came from a well brought up supportive family. He is close with his parents and siblings which shows he is a loyal and good to the people surrounding him. He worked hard for his success even as a young man. He was athletic and extremely motivated in school. Political candidates don’t really gain people’s trust, but Chris Christie proves he should be trusted. It is also good to know that his parents are supportive bystanders in his life, that let him make his own decisions.

  16. Alex Ramirez February 27, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    Governor Chris Christie seems like a very influential person when it comes to getting stuff done the way he thinks it should be or the way he feels the people would want it to be an a certain way, even from the time he was elected class president multiple times. I’m impress with the influence and connections he has been able to build from then till now.

  17. Alyssa Castillo February 27, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    Governor Christie stands up for what he believes . He was raised by great parents and always seemed to have good intentions in anything he was involved with. The way his parents raised him seemed to have had a great impact on his life. He is respect , intelligent , caring, and thoughtful. He goes after his beliefs and sticks with them till the very end. Anything he believes should be done he makes sure it got done . I noticed that before he chose his actions he always thought of others and how it would benefit them as well. He is not a selfish man and that is the perfect mindset for a governor. He makes sure his and other people’s voice is heard.

  18. Yasmine Mercado February 27, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    The information we learned about Governor Christie really helps us to understand as to why he would turn down the honor. I believe this information should be read by everyone because when you know the background of someone especially from their parents it really helps you to know why they are the way they are. Seeing that he is traditional and was that eager to take such responsibilities as a child assures us of his commitment he has to offer. I think he’s an interesting individual and I probably would read a book about him. Being that he wants to stay committed to his NJ constituents and wants only that shows that he knows his limits and what he is capable of and when he is ready then he will probably take on all that he believes he can further. I think his office should respect that because some individuals would probably just take the job just to have the title but wouldn’t be able to offer anything good or do a good job. Governor Christie is smarter than that and knows what he is doing and I respect his decision.

  19. Leonidez Santiago February 27, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    From the information given by this blog, Governor Christie seems to be a good man and very accomplished. It also helps to reassure the people that he will always fight for the rights of the people. This is a good blog and idea because the people can certainly appreciate know more about their governor and hopefully have their opinions of him validated. What’s The Formula? should definitely continue to make blog entries about our country’s leaders.

  20. E.DELAROSA February 27, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    I believe that this blog, and the information shared by Mr. Wilbur Christie is be on inspiring. The way that he expresses himself about his son shows how proud Governor Chris Christie has made him. I think that Mr. Chris Christie being an older brother has had a big influence in the leadership figure that he has become today political world.

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