Election 2022: Death of a son propelled Lindy Blanchard from business to ministry to Alabama politics
Lindy Blanchard says it’s the most frightened she’s ever been.
President Donald Trump had appointed her as U.S. ambassador to Slovenia, First Lady Melania Trump’s home country.
In the weeks before the Nov. 3, 2020 election, a team of U.S. Marines that guards the Slovenian embassy had seen unusual activity at a building across the street that was occupied by Russians, she said. Other foreign nationals including Iranians were seen suspiciously near the embassy.
“Bad players were there, caught on residence camera and embassy camera,” Blanchard recalled. “There was top-secret communication. They decided to double my security, get ready for anything.”
Blanchard, who has a math degree from Auburn University, got a security code name. “My call name was War Eagle,” she said. “My embassy defense team came up with that. I was hearing War Eagle so much. It was that much radio talk.”
The heightened security came against a background of international intrigue. About two months earlier, Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny had been poisoned with a nerve agent.
“Right after the election, an attempt was made on my life,” Blanchard said. U.S. Marines came to the ambassador’s residence and evacuated her. “It was 9 p.m. at night,” she said. “I could hear people breaching my secure area. My team surrounded me and took me down three stairs.”
Blanchard and her husband, John, and four school-age adopted daughters – one from China and three siblings from Peru – were home at the ambassador’s residence in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
“Get my girls,” she told the Marines. “‘We have to secure you first, then go back and get your girls,’” she says she was told.
Blanchard says she cannot reveal further details about what type of assault that happened that night. But she and the Marines on duty were commended for their response under pressure, she said. As she tells the story, she’s wearing a bronze eagle and globe lapel pin she was given by the Marines.
“A threat was acted out on,” she said. “But my team was ready. My Marines acted quickly. We were all recognized.”
Church of Christ youth
Born on the Fourth of July in 1959, and growing up in Wetumpka and Montgomery, Blanchard couldn’t have envisioned eventually being appointed as a U.S. ambassador. Now, at 62, she’s using that as a launch pad to run for governor against a popular incumbent, Gov. Kay Ivey, in the May 24 Republican primary. She has been running third in polls behind Ivey and Tim James, the son of former Gov. Fob James.
As a child, Blanchard attended Capitol Heights Church of Christ and was a member of the youth group.
“On Tuesday nights, we’d go to nursing homes and lead services there,” said Elder Buddy Bell, who has known Lindy his entire life and was in youth groups with her from a young age at Capitol Heights Church. He’s been the pulpit minister for nearly 26 years at Landmark Church of Christ in Montgomery, where the Blanchards attend church.
Starting a business
Blanchard’s husband, John, worked as a painter for an apartment complex and later worked in the office. After Lindy got her degree from Auburn in 1991, they decided to start a real estate business together. They borrowed a folding table from the church and opened a one-room office near their home. They took out a loan to buy an apartment building.
The company, now B&M Management in Montgomery, kept buying more apartment buildings.
“When Johnny and I got married at 19, he went to school first, got his degree and we paid off his student loan,” Blanchard said. “At 28, I quit my job, sold my car, bought a Bonneville for $400, and went to Auburn. At age 34, I was going into actuarial science. When I was 7 months pregnant with Haley, we started the business.”
She questioned the timing of starting a business with her husband. “It’s now or never,” he told her.
“We bought our first apartment building in Montgomery with a lot of debt,” she said. “We were able to bring in investors and buy another one. We’re all over the Southeast.”
The company has owned as many 10,000 rental units, she said. “It’s always apartment properties,” she said. “That’s what he knew. He was working at a place where he was a painter. When he got his degree, they put him in the office.”
Their commercial real estate ventures made them millionaires, with a lake house, a beach house and vacations in the Rocky Mountains.
Death of a son
A turning point came in 2003 when their oldest son, Christopher, committed suicide at age 27, after struggling for several years with opioid addiction.
“I knew Chris very well,” said Bell, who officiated the funeral. “That was a very, very sad moment. We all knew Chris, loved Chris, had seen Chris grow up. I remember the Sunday morning after it happened. The whole church wept together. It was a shock.”
Blanchard said she thought Chris had finally beaten his addiction.
“We thought he was doing well,” she said. “We were on this roller coaster ride for about five years. First it was marijuana, then it was playing with harder drugs. It was during the first group of opioids. That’s what got him hooked that he couldn’t get off of. We had those manic times that he would just go crazy. We’d be on a family trip; we’d have to come back from the lake house and deal with Christopher. One minute they’re doing great, then the next they’re back on the roller coaster. I walk into the house and he’s passed out on the floor. He’s dropping off the cliff again. You never know. It’s a horrible way to live. The only choice we had left was taking away his rights. We just kept thinking he was getting better.”
At one point, they took away his hunting rifles. They had just returned them a month before he used one to fatally shoot himself. “You all have guilt, no matter how a child dies, illness, accident or addiction,” she said. “What if this, what if that. We should have, could have, taken away his rights.”
Before his death, Chris had signed up, along with his father and younger brother, Ben, then 22, to go on a mission trip to Malawi. In a suicide note, he urged his father and brother, “Still go help.”
They did, and the Blanchards became deeply involved in helping the orphanage in Malawi that had been a mission project of Landmark Church.
“We had been serving in an orphanage there and at the Blessings Hospital next door,” Bell said. “They built a hall, a building that honors Chris, that’s used for Bible studies and activities. They went in the homes where the orphans live. They invested a lot and spent a lot of time there.”
The Blanchards founded a charity called 100X Development Foundation in 2004. “I quit my tennis group,” she said. “I quit the country club. Once I started the non-profit, it was about family and the non-profit.”
She hasn’t been actively involved in the family real estate business since then, she said. “I stepped away and started running the non-profit, traveling, helping children, building orphanages, partnering with universities,” she said.
Blanchard worked internationally with local officials and national, all the way up to the president of Malawi. She got involved in working with UAB to establish the first nursing doctoral program in Malawi that was the first of its kind in central Africa. “She built great relationships with the president of Malawi on down,” Bell said.
“It’s a beautiful story of taking a tragedy and making something good come out of it to the glory of God,” Bell said. “Something that could have destroyed them, they were able to turn and make something good come out of it in Chris’ honor.”
Angela Spackman, co-founder of the Adullam House ministry in Wetumpka that cares for the children of prison inmates, said she got a call from John Blanchard offering financial support for their work and then she was introduced to Lindy.
“Over the coming months and years, they blessed us and supported the work, even opening up their own private vacation homes for hordes of children to stay in and be able to enjoy the beach and the lake, a luxury many of them had never known,” Spackman said.
Spackman and her husband, Pete, would take as many as 30 children to stay at the Blanchards’ lake and beach houses. “Lindy and John will never know what it meant to our children … memories that will last forever in the minds of our children who had come from horrific backgrounds,” she said.
“In the past five years our ministry has also been working in Moldova, working with vulnerable teens who have aged out of the orphanages there and would be homeless,” Spackman said. “During the more recent developments in Ukraine, Lindy and her family have been magnificent in mustering help for us as we have taken in refugees and tried to ensure the safety of our children in our homes there. They have worked selflessly and passionately to put us in touch with contacts who can help to ensure that our children can be quickly moved to safety in case of evacuation as well as others who can help with practical needs created by the refugee crisis.”
The Blanchards have supported and worked with other ministries, such as Agape of Central Alabama, Lifeline and Children of the World.
They get involved as financial supporters, then become active participants. An orphanage in Peru they worked with called Blanchard to let her know that three sisters who lived in an orphanage were about to be separated because the oldest was too old to stay at the orphanage. The Blanchards adopted all three of them.
They were also called about an infant in India in desperate need of liver surgery to survive. They adopted Isabella and arranged for her emergency surgery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, but she died in India before the medical jet could fly her out. “She never made it here,” Blanchard said. “I had a baby bed ready.”
Along with their three biological children, including daughter Haley, who works as a special education teacher in South Carolina, they have adopted five children, including the child from India. The adoptions started when Blanchard was 48, five years after the death of her oldest son. They adopted a Chinese girl, Gracie May, now 16. The sisters from Peru are Karen, 23; Jennifer, 17; and Lizbeth, 15.
“I’m a big adoption advocate and foster care advocate and have been for 17 years,” she said.
“Having walked with presidents, she could easily spend her efforts and time among the rich and famous,” Spackman said. “I have found her to be a gracious lady who is as at ease with the unknown and unlovable as she is with the pillars of society.”
Blanchard says politics is a way for her to serve the underprivileged. “I can do better serving orphans and foster children if I win,” she said.
Making D.C. connections
Blanchard said she began working in children’s ministry in 14 different countries and began visiting members of Congress in Washington, D.C., “asking how I could do better for children internationally,” she said. “I made a lot of friends. I wasn’t asking for money.”
One acquaintance she made was U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the first-ever female chair of defense appropriations in the U.S. House of Representatives. They bonded talking about the misuse and waste of foreign aid.
After Trump was elected in 2017, Granger called two weeks after the election and asked Blanchard to submit an application for administrator of USAID, she said. She didn’t get that position, but the presidential personnel office highlighted her resume because of her overseas charitable work, she said.
Melania Trump played a role in selecting the ambassador to Slovenia, Blanchard said.
“The First Lady wanted a female,” she said. “She liked my resume.”
The Blanchards were also significant donors to Trump, giving more than $550,000 to the Trump inauguration fund, $250,000 to the Trump Victory PAC and more than $10,000 to Trump’s re-election campaign. Since 2015, they have donated $2.6 million to Republicans.
She was appointed in 2018 and took office as ambassador to Slovenia on Aug. 29, 2019, and served until the administration left office, on Jan. 20, 2021.
With a year and a half at the embassy as her only experience in political office, Blanchard has focused on her math degree, business experience and charity work as qualifications. She first announced her candidacy for U.S. senate, but at the time, Trump was endorsing U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks. Blanchard switched to the gubernatorial race. Trump later announced he was no longer endorsing Brooks for senate.
On the campaign trail, Blanchard has vowed to abolish the gas tax. She criticizes the lack of competitive bidding on new prison construction, and says she was to re-purpose former prisons for mental health and addiction care.
“I’ll focus on how we can help addicts and those with mental health needs,” she said.
She has donated $7 million to her own campaign. “I blow my money if I don’t win,” she said. “I’m not going to be beholden to special interests.”
Blanchard has repeatedly lambasted Common Core, saying the math she grew up learning is what landed U.S. astronauts on the moon. She noted that the British international school her children attended in Slovenia teaches math the old way also. She has called for eliminating Common Core from Alabama classrooms.
She also calls for a renewed emphasis on vocational and technical education in high schools, so students can leave high school and go straight to work in fields such as welding and factory jobs that focused on technical skills.
“Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes, they need people,” she said. “Filling the void, that’s what I’d focus on.”
She also wants to abolish grocery taxes. Before their business success, the Blanchards struggled to make ends meet, she said.
“Do we have a full buggy of groceries, with meat for the week, or do we buy gas?” she said. “I was that parent. We balanced the checkbook to $1.12. We were so broke.”
Because of her son’s fatal battle with addiction that she says started with marijuana, Blanchard does not support legalization of recreational marijuana.
She says she favors infrastructure investment such as street repaving, new highway corridors and new bridges, but not toll bridges. She wants to prioritize high-speed broadband networks throughout the state.
She believes her connections in Eastern Europe can help make Alabama a military supplier to NATO, which she says now has money to buy military hardware and supplies because of Trump’s emphasis on making NATO members pay their fair share of expenses.
She said she’s open to possible Medicaid expansion. “We need better access all around to healthcare,” she said. “I’m open to whatever we figure out.”
She’s willing to call for voters to decide issues such as gambling and a lottery.
“It should be transparent to voters,” she said.
Legislators should not decide who gets to run a casino, she said.
“They should not pick winners or losers,” she said. “You’d need a very strong governor that’s not bought and paid for.”
She fits that description, she said.
“I’m paying for my own race, and I’ve put in $7 million,” she said. “I’ve only gotten $60,000 from everyone else. I’m not being bought, I’m not beholden, I’m paying for my own race, while the other top two are being bought and paid for. You have to have a governor, if the Lotto happens, by the say of the people, that will protect that money and doesn’t owe any favors, and puts it where it’s needed. I’m all about education.”
She wants to promote teacher recruitment and retention, with better pay and retirement, she said.
“We don’t offer a safe environment (in classrooms),” Blanchard said. “I’d give teachers more money and give them the resources. We need someone strictly over mental health, not the guidance counselor. We have teenagers committing suicide. That’s not the counselor’s expertise.”
“You can’t build a state without law and order and education,” she said. “We’re not supporting our law enforcement. We’re not backing them up. We’re letting people out early because of overcrowding.”
“I believe in constitutional carry,” she said. “That’s why you’ll never see me not toting. I always want to be the first line of defense for my children and my family.”
She says she did target shooting practice with the Marines who guarded the embassy. Working closely with the Marines gave her “more respect for people that are protectors, willing to die for the United States of America.”
After dealing with a son’s addiction, she’s more convinced of the need for a spiritual life and spiritual commitment.
“Your relationship with God can get you through the hardest times, as a family, in everyday life,” she said. “Without that, I couldn’t have made it through the death of two children.”