Joyce Pierson Rumsfeld is the wife of the late former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The 88-year-old and her husband have three children and several grandchildren. Donald Rumsfeld died at 88 on June 30, 2021. The Rumsfelds had been married since 1954. According to a statement, Donald Rumsfeld died in Taos, New Mexico, while surrounded by his family.
Rumsfeld’s family said in a statement the George W. Bush administration official who oversaw the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was a “devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. … we will remember his unwavering love for his wife, Joyce, his family and friends.” Rumsfeld’s cause of death has not been released.
Here’s what you need to know about Donald Rumsfeld’s wife, Joyce Rumsfeld:
1. Joyce Rumsfeld Was Born in Montana & Met Her Future Husband While They Were High School Classmates in Chicago
Joyce Pierson Rumsfeld was born September 18, 1932, in Billings, Montana, according to the Rumsfeld Foundation’s website. She and her family moved to Fargo, North Dakota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during her childhood before settling in Chicago, according to her biography on the charity foundation’s website. In Chicago, she was a student at New Trier High School where she met Donald Rumsfeld.
Joyce Rumsfeld would often be seen at her husband’s side during his career as a Pentagon official in the Bush White House. She also worked alongside him with the Rumsfeld Foundation and was honored for her service in helping the families of U.S. military members and veterans, according to the foundation’s website. The couple have three children, daughters Marcy Rumsfeld Walczak and Valerie Rumsfeld Richard and son Donald Nicholas Rumsfeld, along with seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
When asked by CBS News in 2011 if she was consulted during his career on big decisions, Joyce Rumsfeld told correspondent David Martin, “Give me an example? Like, ‘Should I go back to the Pentagon again and be Secretary of Defense? He didn’t have the nerve to even tell me about it for hours – after he was asked. He’s afraid of me, basically!”
2. She Studied Art History at the University of Colorado
Joyce Rumsfeld studied at the University of Colorado, graduating with a degree in art history in 1954, according to her Rumsfeld Foundation bio. According to the book “By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes and Ultimate Failure of Donald Rumsfeld,” he and his future wife kept in touch while she was studying in Boulder, but they rarely saw each other. She was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority while at the University of Colorado, according to the book.
Joyce Rumsfeld said in an interview featured in “By His Own Rules,” that she took U.S. political thought and U.S. foreign policy classes during her senior year at the University of Colorado, “That’s not usually what you take as an art history major. But in college, he had been writing to me or talking to me, putting thoughts out there that then became of interest to me.”
The Rumsfelds married in 1954. Donald Rumsfeld told CBS News in 2011, “I just simply didn’t want to get married. But I didn’t want her to marry someone else! It was one of those things. And so I caved in and asked her to marry me. And fortunately she yes. And that was, I think, 56 years ago.”
Joyce Rumsfeld said in an interview for “By His Own Rules,” “It was just a funny relationship. The reality, the bottom line is, I would never have married anyone until he married someone other than me. That had already been fixed in my mind, which shows how crazy I was. I think he thought, ‘Well this isn’t the ideal time.’ I mean, he would have loved to have a few more years as a bachelor. But he thought, ‘Gee I’m not going to wake up some day and say why didn’t you act faster or sooner.’ So his was more of an intellectual decision, not knowing that I would have waited.”
3. Joyce Rumsfeld Founded the Chicago Foundation for Education in 1985 & She Was Awarded the Department of Defense’s Distinguished Public Service Award in 2006
According to the Rumsfeld Foundation’s website, “Mrs. Rumsfeld was the founder of the Chicago Foundation for Education (CFE) in 1985 and served as Chairman of its Board of Directors for thirteen years. The Foundation is dedicated to improving the education of children in Chicago public elementary schools. In the last 30 years, CFE has invested more than 6.5 million dollars in the Chicago Public Schools, impacting nearly 30,000 teachers and more than 1 million students.”
Her biography on the website adds, “Mrs. Rumsfeld has served on the Big Shoulders Program at the Archdiocese of Chicago, the National Advisory Council of Character Education Partnership, Inc., and the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for Improvement of Post-Secondary Education. She also served on the Board of Visitors and Governors at St. John’s College for 12 years.”
The Department of Defense awarded Joyce Rumsfeld the Distinguished Public Service Award in December 2006 for her work with U.S. military members and their families, according to the Rumsfeld Foundaiton.
4. Joyce Rumsfeld Almost Died in 2003 Because of a Medical Error as U.S. Troops Were Storming Baghdad, Iraq
In 2003, just as troops were storming Baghdad during the Iraq War, Joyce Rumsfeld became ill due to a medical error and nearly died, Donald Rumsfeld told ABC News in 2011. He did not get into specifics about what caused her condition.
“She was dying,” Donald Rumsfeld told ABC News. “I remember looking at Joyce in the hospital bed. And she looked just like her mother who’d died in her 90s. And she was that bad.” He told CBS News in 2011, “She ended up with a perforated appendix and she was being poisoned.”
CBS News correspondent David Martin asked Rumsfeld, “You thought you might lose her. So how’s that work? Fifteen hours a day, Secretary of Defense, war going on.” Rumsfeld responded, “People were risking their lives. You simply have to pay attention, and I did. Go early in the morning to see her.” He said she was hospitalized for several days, and Martin asked him if it affected his decision-making, to which Rumsfeld replied, “I don’t know.”
According to CBS News, around the same time, the Rumsfelds’ son, Donald Nicholas Rumsfeld, who goes by Nick Rumsfeld, was battling drug addiction and went to rehab.
During a 2011 Q&A on C-SPAN, Donald Rumsfeld talked about how he didn’t call his wife after the plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, and how he was called out on it by his aide, Victoria Clarke:
And we’d had a tough day, and the country had a tough day, and hundreds and hundreds, and indeed, thousands of people had been killed. Our building was smoking and burning, and they were still pulling people out of the charred remains of that area where the American Airlines plane hit our building. And I’d gone back to the office, and we were trying to sort through – I wanted to keep the building open. I didn’t want the terrorists to shut us down, and we were trying to see if that would be possible, and that type of thing. And at some moment, she looked at me and said, have you called Mrs. R? And I just said, no. And she blurted out – not Mr. Secretary, not sir – she just blurted out, you son of a bitch. And it was a stunner. And I don’t know what I said, but I probably said, you’ve got a point. But, I talked to Joyce about that since – my wife – and she said it never crossed her mind. We’ve been married, what, 56 years now. That was a decade ago – 46 years or something? She said she knew where I was. She was hearing reports. :I knew where she was. She had been at the Defense Intelligence Agency with a bunch of Defense attaches, getting a briefing, and she didn’t have any doubt in her mind, but that I had things I had to do. And so, it was not a problem. Tori was looking at it – Tori Clarke was looking at it as a wife and a spouse, and it was a perfectly understandable reaction, I suppose. And I don’t know what I said, but I probably said, Tori, I think you’ve got a point.
5. The Rumsfelds Retired to New Mexico After Living in the D.C. Area for Several Years & They Also Own Property in Montana
After Donald Rumsfeld left the government and public service, the couple retired together to a home in Taos, New Mexico. According to The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, the Rumsfelds also own land in Montana, where Joyce Rumsfeld was born. The Rumsfelds sold their Washington D.C. home in 2015 for $4.5 million, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Joyce Rumsfeld told the Montana Standard in 2011, “We love the west and wanted to live at a higher altitude for the air. We just adore it here. When we arrived, all the neighbors cooked us a big reception barbecue. And we wanted our children and grandchildren to have some linkage to Montana.”