Friday, November 13, 2009

More Nixon Connections

We left Coyote Base (actually we should have dubbed it "Coyote Hole" since we have to walk outside and look straight up to see the sky) and spent a few days in Tucson. It was good to check on the place and tend to some business. Then we flew to Washington, DC, where the Nixon Connections occur on a regular basis. Like wheels among wheels, they come together, separate for awhile, and join up again. It's quite amazing, exciting, heartwarming and fun!

Ron and I flew to Washington a few days early so we could attend a "Celebration of Life" gathering for Bill Safire at the University Club. The Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist was eulogized by such luminaries as Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., Ann Dore McLaughlin Korologos, Daniel Schorr, Judith Miller, Marvin Kalb, Charles Krauthammer, Rahm Emanuel was scheduled but did a no-show, Donald Rumsfeld, Patrick Leahy, and Bill's daughter, Annabel Safire. Reading the names, you can just imagine what an amazing tribute it was. We like to think of Bill as one of "our own," but he became much larger than just a Presidential speech writer. He won his Pulitzer for distinguished commentary and was the most widely read writer about the English language, with his column "On Language" in the New York Times Magazine and in newspapers around the world. His books are too numerous to count

We walked from the JW Marriott to the University Club. The wind felt really cold to a couple of western desert rat/beach bums, but we braved the elements and enjoyed seeing so many friends. It was a fitting turn out.

President Nixon's Domestic Policy Staff gets together every November, to reminisce, celebrate and/or commiserate if it happens to be an election year. These gatherings have been organized by Geoff Shepard for many years and Ron has been an "honorary member" for a long time. He describes it this way: he blew up balloons and painted hand signs and made sure all these policy makers and lofty thinker-types found their seats in motorcades, helicopters and on Air Force One. It's a pretty accurate description. They always gather after the luncheon for a group photo and John Whitaker, aka Cheers, is usually in the front row wearing white socks. He was absent this year because he was somewhere on the Nile River.

Luncheon is always followed by a series of speakers. This year, one of the speakers was James Rosen, author of "The Strong Man" a biography of John Mitchell, and a Fox News correspondent. His talk was riveting, but my favorite line was his telling the gathering of Nixon administration aides, that it was their job to "rescue the caricature of Richard Nixon." I had not thought of it in those terms, but it is an apt description of exactly what we are trying to do. He is not ONLY the Herblock pen and ink drawings of exaggerated jowls, five o'clock shadows and sinister sneers. Not by a long shot.

When President Nixon appointed Ron as the 8th Director of the National Park Service, he fired George Hartzog. It was a shock to everyone in the service. George had been there since 1964. He was a legend, and enjoyed more clout on capitol hill than most people in the capitol city. George and Helen Hartzog were gracious and good to us from the very beginning. The first thing they did was have a huge party for us at the National Capitol Parks headquarters. Rangers from all over the area came to meet us, but probably the main reason they came was to tell George and Helen how much they would be missed.

In 2006, George and Clemson University awarded Ron the George B. Hartzog, Jr. Environmental, Walter T. Cox Award, "for sustained achievement in public service providing leadership in administration of public lands and for policy formation affecting our natural and cultural resources".

Ron was honored, but there was more to the plan than we first realized. George asked Ron if he would "Chair" the proposed Hartzog Institute for National Parks. It would be housed at Clemson in South Carolina. Ron accepted the challenge. The next couple of years were frustrating. One step forward usually resulted in several steps backward. People questioned motives and jockeyed for organizational positions. The memorandum of understanding was dissected, massaged and manipulated. Dean Larry Allen at Clemson hung in and refused to walk, when lesser men would have given up on all the factions that vied for positioning. Ron was ready to walk several times too, but he would always say that he couldn't quit. He had promised George. George Hartzog died knowing he had an Institute, but he did not see the Board of Directors appointed and the Inaugural meeting take place on Wednesday, November 11, 2009.

Dayton Duncan was this years featured speaker. His collaboration with Ken Burns for "National Parks, America's best idea" is a fantastic book and TV series. In his remarks, Dayton said that the first two Director's of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, were the Washington and Jefferson on the Mount Rushmore of National Parks. He said Stuart Udall was the Lincoln, and he went on to talk about the reason he felt this was true.

After his remarks, he walked by Ron and told him, "you were the Teddy Roosevelt." We decided it was a very flattering and generous bit of hyperbole from Mr. Duncan.

The bottom line is that there is now a Hartzog Institute for National Parks at Clemson University and Ron kept his promise to George.

The campus of Clemson University is beautiful. Lakes, trees, rolling hills and gorgeous views are everywhere. "The Walker" golf course is on campus and of course we had to visit the pro-shop and buy some shirts. Larry and Barb Allen, and Brett and Judy Wright were wonderful hosts and we enjoyed some great restaurants, topped off by the final nights feast at the Allen's home.

We came back to Coyote Base (Hole?) tired, but also energized at how much had been accomplished in a relatively short time. Marja, our house/dog manager, had chicken-sour cream enchiladas, and re-fried black beans waiting for us. How wonderful and special is that? The weekend was spent re-charging our batteries, and by Monday, we were ready to roll once more. I volunteered in the Museum gift shop and we kicked off the "Festival of Trains" that evening. Calling all train buffs, and kids of all ages, you don't want to miss this. There was a huge turnout, and Ruby's Diner served their famous sliders. YUM!

GramAnne aside: When I first started this blog, it was mostly to just record and write about stuff that was fun, especially the wit and wisdom of grandsons Hugh and Jake Hart. When Ron flunked retirement and the girls asked me to "blog" about our involvement with the Nixon Foundation, it took on a more serious purpose. But . . . . please allow me a little detour now and then: The Hart family was watching, "Dancing with the Stars," and Michael Buble was singing. Jake, 6 years old, said, "He sounds just like that old guy GranGran listens to, you know, that Frank guy."

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