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The woman who didn't blink in Solidarity's limelight

Danuta Walesa is quiet, almost shy. She is also the competent woman who never allowed the Solidarity limelight or publicity to distract her from her real interest in life: her family.

Talking to reporters about herself or her family life had never appealed to her. In 1980 and 1981, the Walesa home in Gdansk was often crammed with newsmen - even in early morning, the only time you could catch Lech Walesa.

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But Mrs. Walesa paid them no heed and went on giving her children their breakfast cereal and sausage. Only when the union was shut down and her husband was interned did she step into the picture to become his ''voice'' until he was free. She had no education to prepare her for the task. She was a florist before she married the shipyard electrician in 1969. But for the year he was a martial-law prisoner, she took the job in stride while caring for her seven-child brood.

Her forthright manner was impressive and endearing. No words were wasted. She had meager contact with her husband and said she would not ''speak for him'' on matters they had not discussed. But what she did say was always candid. She was not afraid to defend her husband against derogatory comments from the authorities.

''Why should I be afraid?'' she once said to this writer. ''He is my husband and I am only speaking the truth.''

It is in this spirit that she is going to Oslo - to accept an international award on behalf of her husband, who for a time was a Polish as well as Western ''man of the year.'' In her quiet way, Danuta Walesa emerges as at least a ''woman of the year'' to be remembered long in Polish history.

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