clinton, william jefferson

William Jefferson Blythe, Jr.

William Jefferson Blythe, Jr. (February 27, 1918May 17, 1946) was an Arkansas salesman of heavy equipment and the father of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Sharon Lee Blythe, and Leon Ritzenthaler.

Early life

He was born as one of nine children to William Jefferson Blythe, Sr., a poor farmer in Sherman, Texas, and his wife Lou Birchie Ayers.. In December 1935, shortly before his eighteenth birthday, he married Virginia Adele Gash. They had one son, Henry Leon Blythe, on January 17, 1938. Henry later took the surname of his stepfather, Charles Ritzenthaler, after Gash and Blythe divorced.

On December 29, 1940 Blythe married his first wife's sister, Fannie Maye Gash. This short lived marriage produced Sharon Lee Blythe (later Pettijohn), who was born on 11 May 1941.

On May 3, 1941, he married for a third time in Jackson County, Missouri, to Wanetta Ellen Alexander of Kansas City. Their divorce became final on 13 April 1944.

Blythe's fourth marriage took place on 3 September 1943, to Virginia Dell Cassidy. His final wife would not learn of her husband's previous marriages until 50 years later.


Blythe soon shipped out for military service during the Second World War, and was stationed in Egypt. By December 1945 he was posted in Italy. After the war, he returned to his job as a traveling salesman for the Manbee Equipment Company, which repaired heavy machinery.

On May 17, 1946, while traveling from Chicago, Illinois, to Hope, Arkansas, Blythe lost control of his 1942 Buick on U.S. Highway 60 outside of Sikeston, Missouri. He survived the accident but drowned in a drainage ditch trying to make his way to the highway for help.

Three months later, on August 19, 1946, his wife gave birth to their son, William Jefferson Blythe, III. In 1950 Mrs. Blythe married Roger Clinton; the future President legally took his stepfather's surname in 1962, and is familiarly known as Bill Clinton.


Blythe was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Hope, Hempstead County, Arkansas. In 1994 his last wife, by then known as Virginia Kelley, was interred beside him.

In Bill Clinton's autobiography, the elder Blythe was extensively mentioned including a visit that he made to the site where his father drowned.



  • 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.

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