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Who is Holly Petraeus?

  • Former CIA Director David Petraeus' wife has built impressive reputation of her own
  • Former colleague: 'She’s Mom, apple pie, and also a pit bull'
  • Paula Broadwell calls her 'wonderful' in video below
Gen. David and Holly Petraeus
David and Holly Petraeus wedding announcement from The New York Times, 1974.

The Petraeus' wedding announcement ran in The New York Times on May 12, 1974.

David Petraeus breaks his silence to HLN’s Kyra Philips. Read her full description of their conversations right here.

Her last name made it easy to attract attention.

It's unique and immediately identifiable, even among those who had never met her in person.

It afforded her a degree of power -- and with it, intrigue.

Not "Petraeus" -- that would come a year later.

In 1973, Hollister "Holly" Knowlton was the college-aged, eligible daughter of Lt. Gen. William A. Knowlton, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, when she was set up on a blind date with an ambitious cadet named David Petraeus.

The couple attended an Army football game and a friend later told USA Today that seeing Petraeus with his high-profile companion elicited a rowdy response and a few thumbs up from his pals in the student section.

The two were engaged a few months after graduation and married May 12, 1974. The New York Times ran their wedding announcement:

"Lieut. Gen. William A Knowlton, superintendent of the United States Military Academy, and Mrs. Knowlton have announced the engagement of their daughter Miss Hollister Knowlton to First Classman David Howell Petraeus, who will graduate from West Point June 5. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Sixtus Petraeus of Cornwall, NY.

Miss Knowlton, who will graduate June 2 from Dickinson College, and her fiance have planned their wedding for early July. An alumna of the Madeira School in Greenway, VA, she was presented at the International Debutante Ball here."

Over the next 38 years, as their family grew and careers unfolded in ways unimaginable on that blind date, the Petraeus' moved 23 times. Holly was well-prepared for the peripatetic life of a military spouse, being the daughter of a four-star general and part of a family whose members had served in the Civil, Indian, Spanish-American, and both world wars.

She became an active volunteer, performing a number of military and family support roles on the bases where her family would settle and then re-settle. David and Holly Petraeus now have two grown children and, as dad was climbing the ranks, they bounced from Georgia to Italy, Kansas to New Jersey, Belgium to Germany, North Carolina to Washington, D.C. 

It was along this trail that Holly Petraeus found her own professional passion -- helping young, financially vulnerable military families avoid the shady businesses who often prey on them. "Outside most large military installations, there's a strip," she explained to NPR. "And it has the 'buy here, pay here' car lots, the pawn shops, the check cashers, in some cases the payday lenders."

"They were lined up like bears at a trout stream," she's said.

Holly Petraeus seized the role of financial advocate for these service members, buoyed by the regrets she had about her own financial decisions when the Petraeus' were fresh out of school.

She often tells troops how the couple blew their cash on a sports car which too often broke down, an apartment which they regrettably rented sight-unseen and a foosball table, which she told USA Today was the first piece of furniture they bought.

Her tireless campaigns to establish better protections for what she's called "a targeted population" that's victim to such practices as illegal foreclosures resulted in Petraeus being asked to lead the Better Business Bureau's Military Line in 2003.

"She’s Mom, apple pie, and also a pit bull," a former BBB colleague told NPR in 2011. During her tenure -- and while her husband was leading the 101st Airborne Division through combat in southern Iraq -- Petraeus even testified on Capitol Hill about how "unrelenting" overseas deployments were impacting military families.

She was named in 2011 to a position in the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as head of the Office of Servicemember Affairs, a post she still holds. The appointment was made by Elizabeth Warren, who was elected last week to the Senate.

It was around that time that an affair between Gen. David Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, was beginning.

A few months later, in February of this year, Broadwell called Holly Petraeus "wonderful" during a televised discussion about her book.

She also described the couple as having a "wonderful marriage":

Among Holly Petraeus' many admirers, it seems, was her own husband's mistress, who praised her as "a wonderful source of information for this research," alluding to interactions the two apparently had while Broadwell was working on the general's biography.

Holly Petraeus has not yet made any public comments about her husband's affair, and neither have the couple's children. However a family friend and former spokesman for the spy chief told ABC News that "she's not exactly pleased right now."

Retired Army Col. Steve Boylan said, "In a conversation with David Petraeus this weekend, he said that, 'Furious would be an understatement'" regarding Holly Petraeus' reaction to the affair.

"And I think anyone that's been put in that situation would probably agree. He deeply hurt the family."

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN

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