You probably haven’t read all that much about Anne Gust Brown. As first lady of California, she has been unusually private. She has also been unusually influential — arguably the most powerful first lady in the country. She is the subject of a rare, in-depth profile in the new California Sunday Magazine, by Vauhini Vara, a California-based business correspondent for and O. Henry–prize winning fiction writer who previously covered California politics for the Wall Street Journal.

From the article:

When discussing herself, Gust Brown has little patience for the Californian self-preoccupation in which her husband is known to indulge. When I asked how she would hope to be remembered, she answered, “Oh, golly, I don’t know, I haven’t thought about that. Have you ever thought about that for yourself?” I said I had. “You have?” she said. “No, it’s funny, I don’t think that way. You know, I certainly would want people to think I was helpful — that I helped Jerry be a good governor — but I don’t actually sit and think, I want to be known for this. Maybe I’m deficient that way.” This could be “a Midwest sort of thing,” she said. “You know, we’re not real navel gazers.”

This wasn’t the first time Gust Brown had described herself as simply wanting to aid her husband. “I’m just gonna help,” she told a Sacramento publication in 2010, shortly after Brown’s election. “And we’ll figure it out.” Against the counsel of some of the governor’s advisers, she declined, around that time, to take ownership of the Women’s Conference, which had been established in the 1980s by Governor George Deukmejian and his wife, Gloria, and which Shriver had expanded. Echoing her husband, Gust Brown maintains that she has no policy imperatives of her own.

She seems unaware — or maybe just unconcerned — that her goal of helpfulness can appear old-fashioned. The modern image of a powerful first lady is of someone who pursues policy objectives that complement, but are often separate from, her husband’s projects. Gust Brown suggested that she approaches her position differently because of her deep involvement in the governor’s office rather than despite it. “Jerry and I are partners all the time in almost any issue that’s going on in California where I think I can be of help,” she told me. “I don’t feel the need to say” — she took on an officious-sounding tone — ‘These are the Anne Gust Brown goals…'”

Read on at California Sunday Magazine.

If you’re not yet familiar with The California Sunday Magazine, it’s a new, independent magazine covering California, the West, Asia, and Latin America for a national audience. Our stories appear online at and in a monthly print edition, delivered with Sundaycopies of the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, and San Diego Union-Tribune. We also run the live series Pop-Up Magazine, which features writers, radio producers, documentary filmmakers, and photographers performing new stories live on stage at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

Follow Douglas McGray at @dougmcgray