Trial of attacker thrusts reluctant Paul Pelosi to centre stage

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (R) and Paul Pelosi arrive for the Recording Academy and Clive Davis pre-Grammy gala at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California on January 25, 2020
Paul and Nancy Pelosi in 2020

Paul Pelosi never sought the limelight. A deeply private man, he spent decades studiously avoiding a role in the public eye.

While his wife, Nancy, ascended the political ladder to become one of the most powerful women in US history, he quietly built up a multimillion-dollar real estate empire.

The shrewd businessman, though, was thrust to centre stage last in October 2022, when a man broke into the couple's San Francisco home and fractured his skull with a hammer. Mr Pelosi, then 82 years old, survived.

The trial of his assailant, David DePape - an alleged right-wing extremist who had been looking for then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi - made his story a proxy for a dangerous and growing partisan divide in the US.

DePape was ultimately found guilty on charges of assault and attempted kidnapping of a federal official. He faces up to 50 years in prison.

An early life marked by tragedy

The youngest of three boys, Pelosi was born to Italian immigrants in San Francisco on 15 April 1940.

When he was 16, he lost control of a sports car he was driving and killed his own brother, 19-year-old David, who was in the passenger seat. A newspaper clipping from the San Francisco Examiner in 1957 said David was trapped under the vehicle, which flipped onto its roof. Paul never spoke publicly about the crash.

During his college years, he lived in Washington DC, where a fellow student caught his eye.

He asked Nancy out for a beer, but she didn't drink, so he asked her out for dessert instead, according to a book by Molly Ball called Pelosi.

After graduating from Georgetown University with a science degree and then New York University with a business degree, he became a stockbroker.

Paul and Nancy got married in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1963, and moved to New York for a few years. But San Francisco was always home for Paul, and they moved there a few years later.

Within six years they had five children - four daughters and a son.

Supporting Nancy

Nancy Pelosi entered politics in 1976, and eventually made history by becoming the most powerful Democrat in Congress, and the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

"I don't think this is what he signed up for in 1987," their daughter Alexandra Pelosi said, referring to the year her mother was first elected to Congress.

Alexandra was speaking in an interview to promote a documentary she had directed, Pelosi in the House, which was released in late 2022.

"He didn't sign up for this life... he just had to get over it."

Thrust into the supporting character role, Paul had to navigate the delicate balance between his own multimillion-dollar business ventures and any potential conflicts of interest with Nancy's job.

Preferring to stay in the background, he relished running the family household and forbade political talk at the dinner table. He bought mundane things like dish towels, but also designer dresses for Nancy to wear to gala events - he had legendary designer Giorgio Armani on speed dial, according to his daughter.

"It's her celebrity. It's her career. It's her responsibility," he told the Associated Press (AP) in 2009. "I'm enormously supportive and proud about it but I see absolutely no percentage in trying to share the limelight."

He supported his wife amid years of brutal campaigns by the Republican Party to discredit her.

PELOSI SWORN IN AS HOUSE DEMOCRATIC WHIP--Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is sworn in as the new House Minority Whip by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo. With her is husband, Paul, daughter Nancy Corrine Prowda and grandsons Alexander Prowda, 5, and Liam Kennealy, 5. In becoming Whip, Pelosi becomes the highest-ranking woman ever in elected office.
Paul was by his wife's side when she was sworn in as the new House Minority Whip in 2001, making Nancy Pelosi the highest-ranking woman ever in elected office in the US

Former US President Donald Trump called her "Crazy Nancy" and she received countless death threats throughout her career.

During the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol building, mobs snarled "Where are you Nancy?" as they tried to hunt the Speaker down, moments after she had been evacuated to safety.

This aggressive rhetoric culminated in the violent home invasion the following year.

Criticism over mega-fortune

Paul Pelosi founded the real estate and venture capital firm Financial Leasing Services, and amassed a huge fortune as an investor and developer.

He told AP that he "religiously steered away from anything that would look controversial to [Nancy's] position".

But their wealth often put the couple in the headlines. Their combined net worth, primarily from Paul's investments, made Nancy one of the richest members of Congress.

Younger investors started copying the trades, made by Paul but disclosed by Nancy, as required by law, and TikTok was flooded with videos on how to follow in their trading footsteps in the hopes of making big money.

Pelosi's success in stock trading attracted so much media attention in 2021 that it helped revive efforts to strictly control individual stock ownership and trading by members of congress.

Paul Pelosi also owned two US football league teams - the Oakland Invaders and later the Sacramento Mountain Lions, for which he paid $12m in 2009.

Although not a sports fan, he told AP that he was treating it like any other investment - it would make him money.

Car crash and home invasion

The year 2022 was difficult, and he was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In August the then 82-year-old admitted to being drunk when he crashed his Porsche into a Jeep in California's wine country. Videos of his arrest, pictures of the crumpled cars and his police mugshot went viral.

Two months later, he was the victim of a terrifying home-invasion that Nancy said had left their family "heartbroken and traumatised".

Paul was seriously injured when a man broke into their family home in San Francisco and attacked him with a hammer. Along with the fractured skull, he suffered injuries to his right arm and hands, and spent several weeks in hospital.

According to court documents, the man accused of the attack, David DePape, was shouting "where's Nancy" when he broke into the house. DePape said his plan was to hold the Speaker, who was not home, hostage and break "her kneecaps" if she "lied" to him.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi, who is wearing a hat and glove following an attack by accused David Wayne DePape in his home in November
Paul Pelosi wore a hat to cover his injuries when he appeared in public five weeks after the hammer attack in 2022

She told the Washington Post she had "survivor's guilt" about the incident, which had "made [their] home a crime scene".

The following month, Nancy announced that she would not seek a leadership role in the next election.

Five weeks after the attack, Paul was seen in public for the first time at the annual Kennedy Center Honors event, wearing a hat and one glove to hide his injuries. President Joe Biden, also at the event, gave him a fist bump as they took their seats.

Nancy and Paul Pelosi rarely speak publicly about each other and have kept their relationship as private as possible.

It wasn't until their daughter's documentary aired that a few more intimate moments were shared. In one scene, Nancy briefly mutes a phone call to then-Vice-President Mike Pence, and blows her husband a kiss.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi kisses her husband, Paul Pelosi, on Capitol Hill on January 3, 2019 in Washington, DC. Under the cloud of a partial federal government shutdown, Pelosi reclaimed her former title as speaker and her fellow Democrats took control of the House of Representatives for the second time in eight years.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi kisses her husband, Paul Pelosi, on Capitol Hill on January 3, 2019 in Washington, DC. Under the cloud of a partial federal government shutdown, Pelosi reclaimed her former title as speaker and her fellow Democrats took control of the House of Representatives for the second time in eight years.