Sunday, November 28, 2010

The February Group

If you are a February Group groupie, you know very well how important the gatherings have been to all of us over the years. Us Nixonites needed each other, and the February Group became the place where we could get together for fellowship and commiseration.

It's not everyone who can get a group of people together on a continuing basis for more than thirty five years, and yet Dewey Clower has done exactly that.

Like most things "Nixon" if we don't document it, someone else will invariably distort it. That's why I asked Dewey to give me a "history" of how The February Group came about.

Here is W. Dewey Clower's story:
It was January of 1975 when he submitted his letter of resignation as Assistant Director of the Domestic Council in the Gerald R. Ford White House. It was because of President Nixon that Dewey had the opportunity to work in the White House and he decided he wanted to see the former President and thank him for the honor of working for him as a senior advance man and member of the domestic council staff.

Dewey called Jack Brennan and asked for an appointment. Then he flew out to San Clemente. The President greeted him warmly and they spent forty-five minutes together, talking about the Ford Administration, world events and the 1976 presidential election. But, Dewey said the President was most interested in what his former staff people were doing. Dewey remembers that they talked about Ron Walker, Steve Bull, Bill Henkel and others on his advance and travel staff. The President said he wished there was some way a network could be established so he could stay in touch with the members of his White House Team. He asked Dewey if he could establish such a network? Dewey said he had not really thought about such a group, but promised to look into the idea.

When he returned to Washington, everyone he talked to, liked the idea. Dewey decided to host a luncheon on February 10, 1975 in the China room at the Mayflower hotel. The people who attended were: General Larry Adams, Pat Buchanan, Steve Bull, Henry Cashen, Red Cavaney, James Clausen, Michael Raoul-Duval, Michael Farrell, Dave Forward, Gerald Gilbert, John Gartland, Dave Gergen, Ashton Hardy, Bill Henkel, David Hoopes, Tod Hullin, Noel Koch, Tom Korologos, Anne Morgan, Pat O'Donnell, Terry O'Donnell, Dave Parker, Jack Pettit, Bill Rhatican, Howard Roycroft, Mike Schrauth, Geoff Shepard, Bill Timmons and of course, Dewey.

President Nixon sent a telegram saying how glad he was that they were getting together, and loved the symbolism of the group being in the China Room. Those listed above are the FEBRUARY GROUP CHARTER MEMBERS.

More gatherings were held and the group got bigger with each event. People suggested other people they wanted to invite. At first it was mostly limited to those who had served in the Nixon administration ,and then to those who had remained in the Ford White House. Dewey would send out a notice, saying, "The next gathering of the February 10th luncheon group will be . . . . " They went to cash bars and Dewey could usually talk the hotel into serving some food.

After about a year, they decided to ask for donations to cover mailings and they decided they needed a treasurer to keep track of donations. And, they needed a proper name for the group. The February Group was what everyone had come to call it, and that was the name they wanted to keep. The purpose of the group, as Dewey understood it, would be to provide a forum for like minded former Nixon Administrations members to be able to keep in touch with each other through social events and written communication. They held at least two events each year and established the FEBRUARY GROUP NEWS.

The February Group met regularly from 1975 to 2003. Jack D'Arcy, at the time working for a bank, volunteered to be the treasurer and he, along with Steve Bull and John Gartland, asked for volunteer contributions and the membership was very supportive. The group grew rapidly, especially during the Carter years. Ron and Dwight Chapin were kidding when they threatened to stand at the door and eyeball the arrivals. If neither of them recognized someone wanting to come in, they would send them to the room next door. They never did that, of course, recognizing that "The February Group" was no longer made up of just former Nixon staff members. It had become much bigger than that.

Dewey and Melinda Maury Thompsen managed the mailing list and the newsletters. The February Group News always included news and updates about the members. That's what President Nixon wanted to hear about. For instance, in a 1977 edition, it was announced that the "Walkers and Chapins had been invited to the People's Republic of China by Han Hsu, the chief of protocol and Ron's counterpart on the President's trip to China. They planned an around-the- world trip in the spring of 1978." Another 1978 edition talked about President Nixon's plans to travel to Paris and London, accompanied by Tim Elbourne.

The May, 1979 newsletter announced the birth of Christopher Nixon Cox.

The June, 1980 edition reported on a gathering at the 21 Club in New York where President Nixon met with Dave Bottoms, Steve Bull, Henry Cashen, Dwight Chapin, Dewey Clower, Ken Cole, Mike Duval, Jack Goldsborough, Roy Goodearle, Bill Henkel, Mike McManus, Bill Moeller, Bill O'Hara, Nick Ruwe, and Ron Walker.

These are just a few examples of Dewey's collection of back editions of the February Group NEWS and I believe he plans for those to end up in the Nixon Library someday.

The February Group reached a peak of more than 400 members just prior to Ronald Reagan's first campaign in 1980. It was about this time that Jack Anderson, a liberal political writer for the Washington Post, wrote an article that labeled the February Group, a "government in exile." That caused a lot of former Nixon/Ford folks to want to join the group and the result was that the membership list became a valuable document for Republican candidates. Dewey was constantly being asked to provide the mailing list to various campaigns, but he always insisted that members "vetted" the requests before he released the information. In June of 1981, the newsletter announced that 47 February Group members had joined the Reagan Administration, nine more administration members were listed in the next edition.

In September, 1986, it was noted that group members had raised $132,000 toward a goal of $200,000 for the Nixon Library and Birthplace. Many members attended the dedication in July of 1990. One year later it was reported that the Group donated $5,099.00 to the Camp David Chapel fund in honor and memory of Ron Jackson, a long time member of the Group.

At some point Ron Walker realized he could no longer attend the gatherings. He had opened the Washington, DC office for Korn/Ferry International in 1981. He was a "headhunter." Because of this he was usually given several resumes of people looking for jobs. It was better to stay away than say no to old pals from the ranks of the party faithful, and even worse to be hounded for jobs by people he didn't even know.

April Noland took over the duties from Melinda and was involved in the 25th Anniversary of the February Group in 2000.

When Dewey retired in 2002 and moved out near Fredericksburg, Virginia, the February Group seemed to retire too. Then, about the time that NARA's Tim Naftali invited John Dean to speak at the Nixon Library, all the stalwarts from the old guard woke up, shook their heads and went to work again. Steve Bull, Kay Bulow and Barbara McCaffrey lit a fire under the old FEBRUARY GROUP membership, and they came roaring back. It was time to circle the wagons and fight again. Then Ron Walker was persuaded to "flunk retirement" and assume the Presidency of the Richard Nixon Foundation. The February Group and the Foundation had a mission. Everyone was energized and they wanted to re-invigorate the base and enhance the President's legacy.

It's not clear why John Taylor, the former executive director of the Richard Nixon Foundation didn't want any of the Nixon folks involved with the Library. One can only guess and assume that he felt that since he didn't work for the President while he was President, anyone who did trumped his expertise. Now it was a new day. A new leader was at the helm and he wanted all those who had been a part of it to lend a helping hand. The re-energized staff at the Nixon Foundation liked to say, "There is a new sheriff in town." The response was amazing.

Legacy panels were put together. The people who worked in the White House, came together to talk about what they had done "back in the day." C-span loved the idea and they covered the panels. Now it's "in the can" and years from now, the panels can be watched and studied. The people doing the telling are not historians interpreting their personal opinions of what happened, it's the people who lived it who are doing the telling! That's the most exciting thing about it!

The February Group members played a huge role in all that has happened. Not just during the last 18 months, but ever since that February day in 1975 when they gathered for lunch in the China Room at the Mayflower hotel. What a historic day that was. What a lasting tribute to a former President that so many people would stay so loyal for all these years. Dewey described the February Group this way, "We are unstructured. There are no officers and no dues. We just get together several times a year and tell war stories."

Now that Ron Walker is being replaced by Sandy Quinn as President of the Richard Nixon Foundation, the February Group will move under the umbrella of the Foundation as well. That's where they belong and they will continue to support and tell the story of the Legacy of the 37th President of the United States. I predict they will be involved until the day comes when there is a last member standing.

Thank you President Nixon for asking that such a group be formed. Thank you, Dewey, for leading the group and thanks to all who stayed involved for so long and helped in so many ways.

Long live the February Group and the positive Legacy of President Richard Nixon.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Painted Sky

I love that description. It is SO Arizona! The Great Creator thrills us many evenings with beautiful colors splashed across the western sky. The school that our grandsons Hugh and Jake attend is Painted Sky Elementary School. I think whoever is responsible for the naming should be extremely proud. I'd even like to nominate her or him for a naming award, if there is such a thing.

So often schools are named after people. I love it that there is a Patricia Nixon elementary school near the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. There is a Lulu Walker elementary school near us in Arizona too. The only Lulu Walker I know is our princess girl doggie, and I knew she wasn't the namesake. So I googled Lulu Walker and found that she got her teaching credential in 1909, taught for 44 years and was a principal for 16 years. Now that is one lulu of a lady!

Just think, if the Painted Sky name selector, had felt strongly about naming schools for people, our grandsons could be attending the Mrs. Doubtfire, er, I mean the Janet Napolitano Elementary School. After all, she was governor of this state before the Obama Administration put her in charge of Homeland Security. Aren't we all reassured when she gives us a briefing about the latest terrorist threat to our homeland? Personally, I think she was separated at birth from her fraternal twin Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News. NPR swore all the family members and the Obama folks to secrecy because they don't want anyone to know about the Fox connection. Even the Judge goes along with the farce. He and Ron were once both guests of Don Vinsons' at the Bohemian Grove. Ron asked him about his twin sister, but he denied the connection. I guess he had to.

Speaking of wonderful Arizona names, the street we live on is another great example. Placita Montanas de Oro. It means, the place of the mountains of gold and it is true to the name. Even though it won't fit on most address forms, and people from elsewhere can never pronounce it, we put up with it because every morning when the sun comes roaring up over the Catalina mountains, everything is painted a glorious gold. In the evenings everything is golden once again, except when the sunset turns the mountains pink. Here in the land of many snowbirds, there is a wonderful saying, "when the mountains turn pink, it's time to drink." Yep, it's that time of day when we should stop, take a deep breath, watch the wonder take shape, and enjoy the
Great Creator's painted sky. I'll drink to that!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Goodbye Coyote Base, Hello Rattlesnake

Coyote Base is closed!

Most of you know that we rented the behemoth for a year. The date was August 22, 2009. We wanted to stay in Yorba Linda through September of 2010 and asked for an extension of our lease. The landlord said NO!

So we scrambled, packed, cleaned, sorted, and gave stuff away. Then we went to an "extended stay" place for several days. The movers came and took everything else to Tucson. They had to make three stops, Marja's house, our house and the Harts. The good news is that it's over, and we are back in Tucson. The bad news is our Tucson home is a mess and bursting at the seams. We bought beds in California, but mostly all the furnishings in Coyote Base were garage and estate sale treasures. Five dollar tables, two dollar lamps, you get the idea. Saturday mornings became the days we went hunting, not Ron of course, but Marja and me and whoever else was camping out with us. Then, everyone was so thrilled with their super, valuable finds, that we had to bring them back to Tucson. Therein lies the overload problem.

You can't leave a house for a year and expect things to remain as you left them. This morning at 6:30 am, I was greeted by the rattle of a rattle snake when I went into the garage. After I did the superman leap in a single bound over the Escalade, I called the fire department and they came to get the sucker. Interesting to find out that Arizona Game and Fish won't let the fire-men take them farther than 100 yards away. That's to ensure their survival by making it easier for them to find their home and loved ones. Do you suppose I can ever go out in the garage again and not worry that he'll be back?

Then, feeling a huge overload of stress, I decided to chug out for a walk and try to calm myself. As I was enjoying the vista from the High Mesa, I encountered a javelina. For you who may not know that critter, it looks like a pig in high heels. They have longer legs than porky or Babe, and tall, black pointy hooves. They also have very sharp teeth, eat desert things and smell bad. AND . . . they've been known to charge at people. Needless to say, my walk wasn't completely successful in calming my nerves.

The past year was harder than we thought it would be, and someday maybe I can tell the whole story. Ron, and all of you who rallied to help, also accomplished much more that we had dared to hope for. Legacy panels are on C-span for future generations to study and learn about the Nixon Administration. That's a good thing. The Nixon-haters just want to focus on Watergate, and the latest "expletive deleted" that shows up somewhere. With the recent arrival of truck loads of additional documents at the library, I can just imagine the feverish combing for "juicy tidbits" that must be going on.

We will stay involved until a new President of the Foundation is on board. Ron works the phones for hours every day and we will spend next week at the Library. The true Bonus from the past year was the opportunity to re-connect with so many wonderful Nixon era pals, and to get to know the outstanding docents who provide so much to the day to day operation of the Richard Nixon Foundation, Library and Birthplace. They are truly a unique group of professionals. Thank you for the support and warmth all of you extended to us.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Stronger Foundation

There is now an Association of Presidential Library Foundations. It is 13 members strong. The members are the HOOVER, the ROOSEVELT, the TRUMAN, the EISENHOWER, the KENNEDY, the JOHNSON, the NIXON, the FORD, the CARTER, the REAGAN, the GEORGE H W BUSH, the CLINTON and the GEORGE W BUSH which will break ground on the SMU campus in December.

By coming together and discussing common issues and concerns, it became quite obvious that all Presidential Foundations could benefit by forming this group. The meeting last week in Washington, DC is the second one that Ron and I have attended. (An earlier blog is about our meeting at the Clinton last December.)

A Charter and By-laws were adopted and the officers elected are President Bruce Lindsey from the Clinton, Vice-President Jim Cicconi from the GHW Bush, and Secretary/Treasurer Becky Allgood from the Hoover.

The head Archivist, David Ferriero, has been in charge for nine months now. He and Sharon Fawcett spent time briefing the group. He specifically told Ron that the Watergate Exhibit is one of his highest priorities. The original Watergate Exhibit was ripped out almost immediately when the Archives person, Dr. Tim Naftali arrived at the Library. A sign that has been in place for over three years promises that a new exhibit is "coming soon." It is finally about to happen.

Originally given five days to turn around approval when the Foundation finally received the "plan", the deadline was extended by Ms Fawcett. "Team Searchlight" lead by Bob Bostock, also included members Frank Gannon, Dwight Chapin, Tod Hullin, Jack Carley, Sandy Quinn, and Geoff Shepard, went to work, studied the proposed exhibit, and made suggestions. Then a special team of archivist was set up to review Dr. Naftali's exhibit plans and our response to his plans. Sharon Fawcett made a point of telling Ron that he would be not be pleased with all the changes, but would be happy with some of them. Ron reminded her that our team had only asked that the replacement exhibit be fair and balanced and include the prospective of President Nixon. Looks like we'll soon know! Stay tuned. We are really looking forward to having that empty space filled. It is not fair to the paying guest to be confronted with vacant exhibit space.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Small Victory?

As regular readers of my blog know, I have been very upset that the docents at the Nixon Library and Museum were "fired" from conducting student tours. After seventeen years of leading the school tours, they were replaced by people, many of them interns, working with the National Archives. This has resulted in blatant disrespect for the President we represent and incidents of revisionist history. The reason, we were told, is that the docents were too political and positive. Now, why I ask you, would someone want to donate hours and hours to volunteer in a place they did not care about, or talk about a person they did not respect? I personally find it disrespectful to represent a former President of the United States with your shirt-tail hanging out and wearing jeans. I also think his representatives should refer to him as President Nixon and not "Nixon." Even a Mr. now and then would be a little better.

One day when I was volunteering in the Museum Store, I saw a teacher storming toward the door, saying, "We will not be back." I ran after her to see what had a happened. She told me I did not want to know. I assured her I did want to know exactly what had upset her. She told me that the young people conducting the tour for her class had been very disrespectful toward President Nixon and his administration. "What happened to the wonderful docents who used to lead the tours," she wanted to know?

Ron has talked to the folks at the National Archives about this. They even sent out their person in charge of education at all Presidential Archives to look into the situation. We expect to hear back soon on the result of that visit. How many teachers vowing never to come back will it take for the feds to wake up and make some changes? When Marg Garvey, President of the Richard Nixon Docent Guild asked to get her members re-involved with student tours, she was informed that this years interns would be writing the script for the tours and perhaps some of the docents could use them at some later date. (I think you can read that answer as "S-T-A-L-L") Now there are a few docents who have been approved to lead school tours if a vacancy needs filling on short notice. To be approved, they had to agree to an orientation. Many of the books they were required to study were "anti-Nixon." You can imagine how many of the docents felt about that, but a few felt it was better to be inside the tent so they could know what was going on. I told you we have some very strong and dedicated volunteers.

Preaching to the Choir is something I realize I am doing on this blog. All of us "Nixon Loyalists" want to highlight the positive aspects of President Nixon's legacy. It is not an easy goal to achieve, because just when we think we are making progress, along comes another article filled with cheap shots and distorted statements. We always hope to find a little good along with the bad and the ugly.

The July issue of Los Angeles Magazine has an article, "The War Over Nixon." The subtitle is "The ghost of our most divisive modern president haunts efforts to make his library tell the truth." In talking about the up-coming 20th Anniversary of the original Library, "Befitting the strained detente, the celebrations will be held in separate parts of the same building. Naftali and the National Archives will be looking forward to serving visitors and researchers, and the foundation will be looking backward to honor its namesake." The article also says, "Think of the facility as a duplex shared by two highly suspicious neighbors, each using the same foyer and elevator but then going their separate ways."

Perhaps this article has provided a foot in the door to change. Recently, Dr. Naftali told Marg Garvey that "spontaneous tours" are a great idea and they will start them in the fall. The name comes about because the docents will just "spontaneously" gather up some visitors and offer to lead them on a tour. Maybe it is a small victory, maybe it will lead to more cooperation down the road. I hope so. Whatever it is, the visitor benefits, and that's the main thing.

I want to remind you how "" came to come knocking on your e-mail in-box. When Ron agreed to "flunk retirement" and assume the Presidency of the Richard Nixon Foundation, soon after John Dean was invited to speak at the Library on the anniversary of the Watergate break in, our daughters made me promise that I would document the experience on my blog. At that time, already existed. It was born as a fun way for me to talk about our long-awaited amazing grandsons, Hugh and Jake. Writing about the Richard Nixon Foundation and all the struggles we faced made it take on another mission. I have come to think of the "gram" part as a telegram, or aerogram, to keep people informed. It isn't a Grandma thing anymore, although it will morph back into that at some point, I hope.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering Wally Hickel

"They Got Old Wally," read the caption on the wonderful political cartoon by Wright in the The Miami Daily News. The animals of the forest were lamenting the firing of Secretary of the Interior, Walter J. Hickel, by President Nixon. About the same time as the shooting of the students at Kent State, the secretary had written a letter to the President, expressing his concern for his five sons and his opposition to the Viet Nam war. Before the letter got to the President's desk, it was leaked to The Washington Star by a member of the Interior staff. Wally assured us that he meant it to be "eyes only to the President."

I am able to post that cartoon on my blog, because the pack rat I live with saves everything that is and was memorable and historic. We have always loved that cartoon and felt it was telling in so many ways. Today, we only have to change the caption to:

"Godspeed Wally. We are glad we knew you."

President Nixon sent Ron to the Department of Interior to help Wally get organized. Their friendship was one of mutual trust and admiration. Almost as soon as Ron arrived at Interior, the late Frankie Hewitt, executive director of Ford's Theater, approached him with a plea to help her save the historic Theater. It was on it's way to becoming a morbid museum to a murdered, martyred President. Frankie envisioned keeping it as President Lincoln enjoyed it, a living and vibrant theater. Ron talked to Wally about it. They agreed to help and Ford's Theater is alive and thriving today because of their involvement. Years later, that same Frankie Hewitt, now sporting the title of Fords Theater's Artistic Director, gave the Lincoln Medal jointly to Ron and Wally for helping to make sure Ford's Theater would continue to present live theater and be such an important part of our Nation's Capitol heritage. If you have a chance, be sure to visit the museum in Ford's Theater. It was recently re-designed by Richard Norton Smith. It tells the historic story of the famous theater in a way that is informative, wonderful and quite a work of art.

Wally and Ron traveled extensively during the time they worked together. One especially memorable trip was to Micronesia. It was the first time a Secretary of the Interior had visited the region. Ron, used to the ways of Presidential campaigns, arranged with the hotel to have all of the Hickel's telephone calls routed through him. The first morning, Ermalee, Wally's wife, called early to place their room service breakfast order. Ron, not wanting to embarrass Mrs. Hickel, did his best to sound like a hotel employee, and then got dressed and went to the kitchen to pass along the request. Years later, when he finally told Ermalee what had really happened that morning, they had a good laugh. Ever since then they have made a point of talking and laughing about it again and again. Ron's impersonation of the room service order taker is what makes the story so hilarious, so writing it on a blog does not do it justice. Sorry about that.

Here's the Secretary with some of the children of his staff members. Our three daughters are there; Lisa is in the white headband, Marja is second on his right and Lynne got the place of honor on Wally's lap. Note the two-page frame under the lamp. That's how President Nixon's daily schedule was framed on his desk and Ron made sure that the Secretary of the Interior had the very same schedule holder. Wally loved it.

Because he was fired, the President and Wally did not speak for several years. When the President was going to be meeting with Japanese Emperor Hirohito in Anchorage, Ron made arrangements for the Hickel's to host the President and Mrs. Nixon at a dinner in their home. Ron says he is proud and very glad that he was able to bring the two men together once again.

When President Nixon appointed Ron to be Director of the National Park Service, the two men had even more to talk about. Wally was always a wise and welcome confidant.

Years afterward, Ron would often go salmon fishing in Alaska with his pal Homer Luther. Their fishing camp, Enchanted Lake, was very remote and Ron would usually overnight coming and going, at the Anchorage Hotel Wally owned, The Captain Cook. This meant the old friends could have dinner and enjoy spending some time together.

Walter J. Hickel was a two time governor of the State of Alaska, a mover and a shaker for awhile in Washington, DC, and a one-of-a kind great guy. He took a practical view of the conflicts between the environmentalist and the oil companies. He was against locking up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He used the settlement money from the Exxon Valdez oil spill to help repair Prince William Sound.

In 1969, the first year of Wally's Secretaryship, the oil spill took place in Santa Barbara, California. Union Oil was the culprit that time. Wally wanted to make sure they did everything possible to clean up the mess. He asked Dick Kleindiest, then deputy attorney general, to do some research and see exactly who was legally responsible. They found a 1867 law that stated that the entity causing the leak was responsible to clean it up. Wally was on the beaches of Santa Barbara almost immediately. Taking names and directing traffic.

Wish he could talk to us today about what is going on in the Gulf Coast and the efforts of BP to stem the damage. He definitely would have strong opinions and we need his wise counsel and leadership.

On this Memorial Day, especially, we think of our heros and pause to offer our thanks and remember their service to our Nation. Yea, they got old Wally, but we got to have him for awhile. Weren't we lucky!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Walker Cup

No, not THAT Walker Cup. Every golfer knows about THAT Walker Cup. George Herbert Walker, a man famous for being quite a golfer, was President of the USGA in 1920 and donated the trophy. Later, that Walker would become even more famous because of this relationship to two United States Presidents. The winners, either from Europe or the United States, have enjoyed bragging rights for winning the prestigious trophy ever since.

The younger Walker Cup was donated to the Kodaikanal International School in India, by Ron Walker, in 1957, in honor of the memory of his godfather, Mario Di Georgio.

Mario was a beloved teacher at Kodai. He mentored a student each year and Ron, then called "Tex" by his classmates, was his last. Mario, had been a concert violinist, an air raid warden in Burma during the Japanese invasion, a physical fitness expert and a lover of all nature and God's creatures. Mario was also the music teacher and choir director at Kodai, and he conducted wonderful concerts each year. Looking back on why Mario singled out Ron, we think he saw the amazing potential in a kid, yanked away from the Texas lifestyle, especially sports, that he loved and plunked down on the other side of the earth, in a foreign place, and having to live apart and far away from his parents.

He was only 13 years old when he arrived at the boarding school in the very remote hill country of India. To travel from his parents home in Hyderabad, to Kodai School, required a plane ride to Madras, a bus ride to a hotel to get two rickshaws, one for him and one for his luggage. The rickshaw would take him to the train station for the overnight trip and then finally arriving at the hill station where he could catch a bus for the 4 hour ride up the mountain to the school.

Mario spent lots of holidays at the Walkers home in Hyderabad. Ron's parents were the first ones who began calling Mario, his godfather. The honorary title speaks volumes for the influence and caring that Mario brought to the young student. He was both a mentor and a spiritual advisor.

During Ron's senior year, 1956, Mario became ill with phlebitis, and probably other health issues, and went to the American missionary hospital in Vellore on at least two different occasions. The faculty urged Ron to visit him. He traveled by 3rd class train, leaving Kodai on a Friday afternoon and arriving in Vellore the next morning. He spent several hours with Mario. Ron remembers that they both cried when they said goodbye. Mario died a short time later.

It was a difficult time for a young man. As a small token of how much he cherished his time with Mario, Ron saved all of his letters and has them to this day. The Walker family, wanting to do something to honor Mario's memory, decided to recognize a student each year with a trophy to highlight their musical achievements.

Ron had a cup engraved and hand carried it to Kodai when he went from the University of Arizona during the summer of 1957, to visit his parents who were then living in Baghdad, Iraq.

Now, you knew there would be a "Nixon Connection" to the story, and here it is: President Nixon visited India in the summer of 1969 and Ron Walker was the advance man handling the stop. It was a memorable summer. Neil Armstrong made the giant leap for mankind on the moon, Teddy Kennedy drove off a one-lane bridge in Chappaquiddick and the Manson murders took place in California. During the trip, the President sent word that he wanted to meet with Yahya Khan, the President of Pakistan. He insisted the meeting be one-on-one, meaning no other aides were to be present. Henry Kissinger's people and everyone at the State Department were beside themselves. The folks at the embassy were aghast. Nobody wanted to be excluded, but the private meeting took place and the "Yahya Channel" made it possible for the President to begin planning his historic trip to the People's Republic of China.

While Ron was in India doing the advance, he had a few issues with his counterpart on Prime Minister Indira Ghandi's staff. They were relatively small, but potential roadblocks for each side that didn't want to give away more control than they had to. One Indian person in particular, made asides to his people, speaking in Hindi, not realizing Ron understood what he was saying. It was usually along the lines of, "we probably don't have to worry, this guy is too young and too inexperienced to have much clout with the White House. We will get our way on this."

The day everything changed was the day Ron had a meeting with the Prime Minister. He greeted her in her native language and delighted in watching the cantankerous aide realize he'd been had. The Americans were soon given the green light on several key points as they had originally hoped.

Our daughter, Lynne Walker McNees, traveled to India recently in her role as President of the International Spa Association (ISPA). After her meetings in Mumbai (Bombay when Ron was in school) she and former ISPA Board Chair, Jane Segerberg, traveled to Kodai. Jane, always looking for an exotic place to hike, was intrigued with the unique destination. Lynne was blown away by the emotion and history of discovering a place where her father spent his high school years. Ron and I sent a donation with Lynne for her to present to the school. This was when we found out that the "Walker Cup" was still a prestigious part of student life at Kodaikanal International School. This years recipient of the Cup asked about its history and was told the current faculty didn't know too much about it. Shazam! In walks Lynne, one of those Walkers, and the information began to flow from her Dad, over the Internet to fill in the blanks at the school in the hills of India. How amazing is the timing of events in our lives! For this one it is Fifty-three years later.

Mario would be so proud. So proud of the adult Ron has become and all he has accomplished, and also proud that he, Mario, is still a traditional and important part of student life at Kodai International School.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

April 22nd, was the 40th time that we earthlings have celebrated Earth Day. Most of you know that the Earth Day observances started with President Nixon.

Sponsored jointly by the Nixon Library and the Richard Nixon Foundation, we held another of the Nixon Legacy Forum's, "Richard Nixon and the Rise of the Environment." The panelist were three men who were a part of the events of the day, the Honorable Chris DeMuth, the Honorable William Ruckelshaus and the Honorable John Whitaker.

The panel "streamed live", worldwide, from the Nixon Library Theater. It was great. You can see it for yourself on the Nixon Foundation You Tube channel or

Again, I learned so much about what was going on at the time. We were reminded that our environment was just plain dirty, smelly and awful back then. President Nixon knew that drastic measures were badly needed and he made the issue a major domestic priority when he declared in his first State of the Union address that we make "the 1970's a historic period when, by conscious choice, we transform our land into what we want it to become." This bold action lead to the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and more than 80,000 acres of National Parks. WOW! So how come people say that President Nixon was only a foreign policy president?

Think back to 1970. We didn't know enough to think about thinking "green." It wasn't until raw sewage flowed into our waterways, rivers caught on fire, medical waste washed ashore, and beaches were closed that we began to wake up and smell the yellow air. One of my favorite lines of the panel was when Bill Ruckelshaus, the first EPA Administrator, said it wasn't until polluted air was so bad that the people in Denver wanted to be able to see the mountains and the people in Los Angeles wanted to be able to see each other, that citizens began demanding change. The impetus came from the people and the President responded.

However, the Nixon administration took its licks on that first Earth Day. John Whitaker, in his book, Striking a Balance, reminds us that Walter Cronkite on a one hour CBS-TV special said, Earth Day crowds were "predominantly white, predominantly young, and predominantly anti-Nixon." In 1970, Theodore White, writing an essay in Life magazine, "The two natural containers of the environment, the air and the water, finally vomited back on Americans the filth they could no longer absorb." That's harsh!

Christopher DeMuth, then a young 22 year old Harvard graduate, who had been brought to the White House by Patrick Moynihan, was very involved in the work of the task force who formulated the administrations environmental policies.

We've seen a huge improvement in our environmental quality since 1970.

Air is twice as clean now, despite that fact that twice as many cars are traveling twice as many miles. Peak smog levels are one-third as high as they were 40 years ago.

Recycling is common place now and every where we turn, we are reminded to think green. This year on Earth Day, school children at Disneyland released 140,000 ladybugs throughout the resort as part of the 12-year old integrated pest-management program. Ladybugs eat 4-5,000 aphids during their lifetime. Now that's truly a creative way to celebrate a bug's life at the Magic Kingdom in a way that helps Mother Earth. Way to go, Mickey!

A green apartment complex of 132 units here in Orange County, California, held their grand opening on Earth Day. Most cities in America are probably planning like projects.

However, we have to keep finding new, innovative ways to continue to make a difference. The job will never be over. Also, not all green, innovative products are as good as the old, wasteful ones. Showers for instance. It's really hard to get warm in the Coyote Base huge, cavernous marble shower with it's weenie little low-flow, water-saver shower head. Now, please don't mess with my shower in our Jackson Hole cabin. It is old and perfectly wonderful. The fire-hydrant-like blast of hot water is a welcome luxury. Sorry, but we aren't completely green and we gotta have some of our favorite comforts of life left to enjoy.

And speaking of showers, when you have your own blog, you get to choose what you want to write about, so my complaint in the shower category is directed at shampoo and/or conditioner container designers. Since I can't exactly wear my glasses while showering, it is very difficult to tell which is which. Come on folks. Make it easier, will you please?

Remembering Dorothy Height: During the years that we lived in Washington, DC, I often attended events and had a chance to visit with Ms. Height, who died recently. Her leadership was legendary, and it is true that when she entered a room, she commanded attention. She was always a vision from heels to hat, and just as friendly and gracious. She never failed to act glad to see me, but I was always a bit intimidated and awed to be in her company. She is called the "god mother of civil rights" and she worked tirelessly her entire 98 years for the cause. I think of her today with gratitude, and salute her for all she did for our country and for humankind.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


The Docents at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace had their annual "Refresher Course" on Saturday. Ron and I were both asked to speak.

As you know, they are an amazing group of very knowledgeable and supportive representatives of the life and career of President Nixon. Many of them have told me that they love hearing our personal stories about the Nixons.

Ron does a fine imitation of President Nixon, and he peppers his stories with amazing impersonations of the former President. Those of you that have seen him in action, know what I am talking about. Our friend Warren Adler saw "Nixon in China" in New York and called to tell Ron that he did a better impersonation than the guy in the production. Could a stint on Broadway be in his future, the next time he flunks retirement?

I told the story of President Nixon meeting with Mexican President Diaz Ordaz in Puerto Vallarta. The President had been traveling non-stop, which meant that Ron and many other aides had been away from home a great deal. Bob Haldeman took pity on some of us and invited us to travel to Puerto Vallarta and have a few days of rest and recreation. Susie Chapin, Inge Elbourne, Pat Brennan and I were the lucky ladies. The State Department loaned us two dune buggies and we explored the beautiful beaches and mountains of Mexico. We stayed for several days at the charming, but long-gone "Garza Blanca" right on the beach. When the days of fun and sun ended, we returned to the official hotel, the "Camino Real." President and Mrs. Nixon arrival day dawned. "El Biggo Dayo" we called it.

Us girls were asked to disappear, and we were glad to, but requested one of the dune buggies for our getaway. I, the only one experienced driving a vehicle with a stick shift, took the wheel. We had admired the wonderful paintings of local artist, Leppe, and we wanted to visit his gallery. The artist had a whimsical style and did several paintings with American and Mexican flags to commemorate the historic meeting. We wanted to see if we could afford any of his painting with the flags.

When we found the street where the gallery was located, we were shocked and horrified to find the street closed. Having been in the country for a few days, we were very impressed with our own ability to speak the native language, and argued heatedly with the Mexican policeman telling us we couldn't enter that street. "Muy importante," we told him. "El biggo appointamente," we said heatedly as we pointed to our watches. It worked. He shook his head and moved the saw horses that had been blocking the intersection. We were thrilled and proud of ourselves.

When we matched the address of the gallery with the storefront, we couldn't believe our eyes. It was CLOSED. Why would they close it? It was an important day for both countries. Why would the artist want to lose potential business? Then we looked around. All the stores were closed. It was then that we realized we were the only vehicle on the street. Then we saw IT. A parade was headed right for us. Motorcycles, cars with flashing lights, flags, buses . . . . realization hit. It was the President's motorcade and it was headed right toward us.

Now, we had a choice. I could pull a U-turn and lead the motorcade. Or . . . we could sit where we were and let the entire Presidential entourage pass by. There is no place to hide in a dune buggy. There are no doors to duck behind or windows to roll up. We were four blondes trying to hide in plain sight. We froze. We were caught red faced and red handed.

Ron and Dwight were in the pilot car, clapping their hands in slow motion applause. All they said to us was, "Great way to disappear, girls." The President and Mrs. Nixon were riding in a convertible. He didn't say a word, but his face said it all. Mrs. Nixon, always gracious and loving to us, said, "You girls look so cute."

All the people on the buses were laughing and waving.

We didn't think it was funny until several minutes later. Then we couldn't stop laughing. The hilarity of the whole experience overwhelmed us and we had to exit the dune buggy to clutch our stomachs and bend over to accommodate the belly laughs. I promise you, we really did think we were disappearing as requested.

Can you imagine doing that today? In the first place, we probably could never "talk our way" into a secure area, and even if we did, we probably would have been taken out by roof top snipers. I have been on the street in Washington DC a couple of times when President Obama's motorcade is on the move. Streets are totally cleared for several, long minutes before his arrival. Traffic on side streets is blocked off. Pedestrians are told to stay on the sidewalk and "cease all movement." Police people yell at the tourists, "You, in the brown coat, stand still."

Then, finally, he goes flying by in a blur of frantic limo dust action. Tourists wave. "Did you see him", they ask each other? Bureaucrats and local residents release a collective sigh and go on about their day. It's the way of life in our nation's capitol these days.

I wouldn't have missed the way we got to experience Presidential motorcades for all the tequila in Mexico!

Monday, April 5, 2010


Coyote Base was rocking and rolling on Easter afternoon! It's all daughter Marja's fault. She had said she hoped to experience an earthquake while she was living in Southern California. In the category of "be careful what you wish for" she was pretty freaked out by the actual event. She's now covering her proverbials by saying she only wished for a little one, not THE big one. Thank heavens, while this was a 7.2 magnitude quake, it was not THE big one.

Earthquakes are scary, dangerous, and destructive. I spent my girlhood in the San Gabriel valley, living in a two-story house. I slept in a four poster bed. When the "Tehachapi Earthquake" hit on July 21, 1952 at 4:30 in the morning, I vividly remember riding my bed from wall to wall, and hanging on for dear life, while my mother ran up and down the hall praying in a very loud voice. (I was 13) We teased her about it for years, but she never thought it was as funny as my brother, Rob, and I did. My Dad slept through the whole thing. She said her worry was the two brick chimney stacks on each end of the house. She was afraid they would tumble down and kill my brother in his room and my Dad snoring away on the other side of the house.

Yesterday's Easter afternoon quake hit about three-thirty. I first noticed my chair was moving back and forth. Ron announced that we were having an earthquake. Marja came flying out of her office to join us. We went into the back yard. (You are supposed to stand in a door-way to avoid any falling debris.) The dogs began barking as the pool water sloshed back and forth. Some of it splashed right out onto the deck. That was the most amazing part of the whole thing, watching a back yard tsunami happen right before your eyes.

Kodai, our boy dog, was the second most freaked out event participant. He insisted on sitting solidly in the middle of the back yard for a long time afterward. It was as if he didn't want to stand up and experience the scary sensation of involuntary movement again. His sister, Lulubelle, just wanted to play ball. That's her first choice of ways to spend her every waking moment. She runs like the wind, so maybe if you are moving fast enough, you don't really feel earthquakes like the rest of us.

Coyote Base is about 3 years old, so it would have been built in strict compliance with all the necessary codes for this part of earthquake country. That's a good thing. It is amazing to realize that our Easter earthquake was bigger than the one in Haiti. This one shook 20 million people in three states and Mexico, but it happened in an area where few people live. That was the huge difference.

I volunteered in the Museum Store at the President Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace on Easter Monday. Just about everyone wanted to talk about the earthquake, and everyone said they were so relieved when the shaking stopped. Californians hear so much about the "Big One" that experts say is inevitable. When it is only a 7.2, gratitude reigns. One geologist called it a "near miss." Hope Marja is now satisfied and will stop the wishing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Presidential Kumquats

The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace has a bumper crop of kumquats. The six beautiful trees, three on each side of the reflecting pool, are loaded with the picture perfect fruit. Daughter Marja and I couldn't resist. We harvested the little flavor-bombs to make kumquat marmalade.

Harvesting kumquats on the Library grounds.

I tried hard to find the Nixon/Kumquat historical background, but alas, there doesn't seem to be anything too major. The home where the 37th President was born (the very first baby born in Yorba Linda) was a citrus grove. His father, Frank Nixon worked hard to earn a living as a citrus farmer, but it was a tough task. After interviewing several docents and long-time staffers, it was decided that Hannah Nixon, the President's mother, must have had at least one kumquat tree somewhere close. I found an old reference to "Hannah's Kumquat Kitchen," but no other information was included. We have to assume that she cooked with some of the fruit that surrounded her home.

When the library grounds were taking shape, the landscapers wanted to honor it's "citrus roots". Unfortunately, the only citrus tree that could take the large amount of water necessary for all the other plantings, and especially Mrs. Nixon's roses, was the hearty, tolerant kumquat tree. Kevin Cartwright, involved in those decisions, says the kumquat came to represent all the ancestral citrus species that once lived on the site. Hazel Betts, a master gardener docent, and Bob Lyons, an original docent, still very much involved in the day to day activities, confirms this as well.

Coyote Base has been smelling way-orangey-sweet for almost a week now. When eating a kumquat right off the tree, the experience is a total flavor burst in the mouth. First the sweet rind, then the sour fruit. Wowser, wowser. It kind of makes your eyes water and your lips pucker. So, that's the reason we decided to cook them.

Kumquats are native to China and arrived in California around 1880. Today the state grows the most kumquats in this country, on about 133 acres of kumquat groves. While not widely available in grocery stores, we saw some at the Yorba Linda farmer's market. We also planted a kumquat tree in our Tucson yard.

We tried several different recipes, and decided the best, and least labor intensive was this one, that we chose to call "Presidential Kumquat Marmalade." So here it is, if you want to make some for yourself.

Yield: 8 cups

2 lbs kumquats (4 cups)
1 lime
1 lemon
3 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups of water
1 tsp vanilla
8 1/2-pint mason jars

Squeeze lemon and lime. Gather the juice and pulp.
Wash and dry kumquats.
Thinly slice them.
Remove seeds (HINT: If you cut in half, not length-wise, seeds will be on one side. I know, we were amazed too!)
Place sliced kumquats, all juice, water and sugar in a pot.
Bring to a boil.
Lower heat to medium low and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, content should be syrupy.
Cover, set aside and let sit overnight at room temperature.
Next day, bring kumquat syrup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer to desired thickness. (Our first batch was a little watery.) Then we learned to cook it to a beautiful dark brown orange color.
Stir once in awhile, using a wooden spoon
Bring to a boil again.
Skim off any foam that develops.
Add vanilla.
Fill mason jars with marmalade.
Fill a big pot of water and bring to just under a boil. Place filled jars in water and boil for 10 minutes.
If you want to freeze the marmalade, you can skip the "canning" process.

To one batch, we added red pepper, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, apples and raisins to make a delicious chutney.

We pureed one batch and froze it for future cookies, cakes, etc.

And, how about a kumquat marmalade cocktail? Don't laugh. General Omar Bradley invented a drink using orange marmalade. He favored orange slices in his bourbon, and when he was posted to some remote area of the world, there weren't any fresh oranges. He noticed a jar of orange marmalade on the table and the resulting cocktail was named for him. It is delicious with scotch also.

Our final kumquat kount:
32 jars of kumquat marmalade
4 jars of kumquat chutney
1 large zip lock bag of pureed kumquat preserves.

We will be sharing the end product with the folks at the Library. We hope everyone will think the marmalade is as delicious as we do. It was a big project, but a fun salute to "Hannah's Kumquat Kitchen," and the hearty fruit that has come to represent Frank Nixon's citrus grove, the boyhood yard of the 37th President of the United States. Kudos to the Kumquat!

Monday, March 22, 2010

If A Picture is Worth a 1000 Words . . . .

. . . . how about a picture that's worth a million laughs!
Check out "Bridesmaid Nancy" in her dyed-to-match-her-outfit shoes, carrying her "bouquet of a gavel," while Steny Hoyer carries her purse. And when was the last time you saw grown men walking down the street holding hands?
I guess she has been working so hard, she just couldn't resist turning her face to the sun in the hopes of catching a few rays.
What they did is not one bit funny, but this picture sure is hilarious.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Nixon

A special birthday party was held at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace yesterday. Over 3,400 girl scouts gathered to celebrate what would have been Pat Nixon's 98th birthday, and what was the girl scouts 98th birthday. Both will be celebrated in even greater grandeur on their centennials.

The theme this year was "Girl Scouts Go Green". Ron, wearing his President of the Foundation hat, was one of the judges for the "recycled art contest." Today's young people are amazing, creative and innovated. Using "trash" and imagination, they made American flags, villages, people, animals, panorama's and posters. The message was clear. Anything and everything can become a work of art. The other judges were Nancy Nygren, head of the Orange County Girl Scout Council, Dr. Tim Naftali, head of the archives at the Nixon library, and Anthony Curtis, Assistant Chief Operating Officer of the Nixon Foundation.

Thelma Catherine Ryan was born just before midnight on March 16, 1912. According to her daughter Julie's book "Pat Nixon, The Untold Story," her thoroughly Irish father, Will Ryan, decided to celebrate a day later, St. Patrick's Day. He said, "Well, she was there in the morning, my St. Patrick's Babe in the morning."

Thelma Ryan's childhood was a time of great loss and hard work. She was only 14 when her mother died of cancer. Four years later her father died. Will had asked his oldest son to "take care of Babe." The three Ryans did indeed stick together. In the fall of 1931, she registered at Fullerton Junior College as Patricia Ryan. Julie says that she and her sister, Tricia, learned in the 1960 campaign that their mother's name had once been Thelma. When they asked their mother about it, she said "Patricia was my father's favorite name, and she told them she wasn't Thelma anymore, she was Pat.

She and her father were so right. She WAS Pat. Our wonderful First Lady Pat. She just wasn't a Thelma, at least not to me.

In 1969, President and Mrs. Nixon were on a helicopter, flying over the National Mall in Washington, DC. She commented on the eyesore of row after row of quonset huts still being used as "temporary offices." She asked the President to see if they could be removed. The huts were soon gone, and the Mall is now a beautiful place that makes all of us proud. The Richard Nixon Foundation and key people in our Nation's Capitol are working with Congress to designate a small portion, "The Pat Nixon Memorial Garden." She is deserving of the honor and it would make us so happy to see her finally get some long, overdue recognition.

This picture, taken in 1943 or 44, was what Mrs. Nixon saw on the Mall in 1969! I remember seeing it as well, and thinking how really ugly it looked.

Another favorite Mrs. Nixon story is the one President Nixon wrote about in RN, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. He wrote in his diary during his 1974 trip to the Soviet Union, that he and Pat had dinner alone on the balcony outside their room.


As we looked out at sea, there was a three-quarter moon. Pat said that since she was a very little girl, when she looked at the moon, she didn't see a man in the moon or an old lady in the moon - always the American flag. This, of course, was years before anybody ever thought of a man actually being on the moon or an American flag being there.

She pointed it out to me and, sure enough, I could see an American flag in the moon. Of course, you can see in the moon whatever you want to see."

I like to think I can see Pat Nixon's American flag on the moon.

We celebrate her life, her many accomplishments, and her legacy every day at the Nixon Library and Birthplace. Her presence is felt throughout the Museum. Her quiet dignity is evident too.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Remembering General Haig

The Nixon Alumni Club lost another valued member recently. Alexander Haig. Ron and I were proud to call Al and Pat Haig friends, and it got me to thinking about them both.

Al's career has been quite amazing. He was an aide to General Douglas MacArthur and Cyrus Vance, Secretary of the Army under President Kennedy, deputy national security advisor and Chief of Staff under President Nixon, and Secretary of State under President Reagan, to name just some of his resume highlights.

During the Nixon White House years, I was privileged to get to know Pat Haig. Not only is she beautiful, in a Grace Kelly-esque sense, she is a gracious and friendly lady. It was always such a pleasure to sit with her on a plane, or see her at a social gathering.

In 1978, Ron and I were invited to re-trace President Nixon's 1972 historic trip to the People's Republic of China. Travel visa's to the PRC were still scarce, but after an event at the Chinese liaison office, Han Hsu suggested that we should visit his country. He told us he would send us visa's. Some of you may not know that Han Hsu was a close aide to Cho En-lai, and Ron's counterpart as the two countries prepared for their leaders to visit. Dwight Chapin was the White House contact person responsible for the President's trip, and Ron's boss. Han Hsu also sent visas to Dwight and Susie Chapin. We were told to be in Tokyo on May 21, 1978 to catch Iran Air flight #801 to Peking.

As we talked about making this trip, we discovered that Pan Am Flight #2 went around the world for less total cost than a single round trip flight to Tokyo. And so we booked Pan Am, leaving New York on May first. Of course, we spent more money on the ground than we saved, but it was six weeks of non-stop adventure that was worth every penny. Our first stop was London. Upon arrival, we had a message from General Haig, then the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, living in Monns, Belgium, inviting us to visit. We had planned a week of traveling around Europe, so after arriving in Frankfurt, we immediately headed for Monns. It was a 5 and a half hour drive on the Autobahn, in our little rental car. Cars whizzed by us and Ron felt like he should get out and make sure we were moving.

You must remember that this was before GPS devices, but we had maps. Ron and Dwight would take turns driving, and the non-driver was the navigator. Susie and I took up nesting-rights in the back seat, and spent most of each hour laughing at the hilarious exchanges going on between driver and navigator. Their pronunciations of the road signs were especially funny. They argued about the various "austfahrt" whizzing by and if they missed a turn, it was always the other guys fault. We went across the German/Belguim border check point three times, because we couldn't figure out how to get back on the main road. We finally decided they must have thought we were smuggling little yellow cars from one country to the other.

When we got to Monns, we had a hard time finding the Haig's Chateau. We were lost in a residential area when a car pulled out of a garage and Dwight said the driver looked like he spoke english. Ron jumped out and asked the man if he knew where General Haig lived? Blank stare. Then Ron pantomimed all the decorations on his hat and the row of stars on his shoulders. A-ha! He pointed and gestured and we were off, soon to find our destination.

Their home was used as a German Headquarters during the war and renovated when General Goodpaster was head of NATO. We had lovely rooms, with the Haig's White House and military mementos all around. Dinner was beautiful and delicious; cheese soup, steak, fried potato balls, salad, green beans, red wine and sherbet for dessert. (If you wonder how I can be so precise, it is because my mother saved the letter I wrote, complete with the menu.)

General Haig talked a great deal about the days just before the President resigned. I wrote to our family that he said he was in charge at the White House during those days. (Honest) He talked a great deal about it, almost as if he was so happy to have people that he could talk about it with.

We all had breakfast together the next morning at 7:45. The general was in his 4 star uniform, as he had a 9:00 meeting that morning with the Danish press. We left soon after he did, and talked a great deal about how candid he had been with us, and how it was so obvious that he trusted us and knew we would not betray his confidences. We never have.

I must admit, that when he announced that he was in charge after President Reagan was shot, I thought about how he'd been in charge of another White House, after another traumatic incident.

To this day, our family occasionally uses the "Haig-in-charge" reference. Just this past Christmas, while fixing Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon, Marja made it clear that she was the "Al Haig of this cooking project." Seems that the one who thinks of being in charge first, announces it, indeed gets to be the General! And this was a fun project, because we said everyone had to talk just like Julia the entire time the famous dish was being prepared. It was hilarious.

Through the years, Al and Pat Haig came to parties at our home, and we always enjoyed seeing them. A very memorable time was one year at our sometimes annual "Cinco de Mayo" party when Al regaled our daughters friends with stories from the days that he and Ron flew helicopters together in Vietnam. Despite Al's colorful descriptions, it didn't happen. Ron's branch of the army was armored, (think tanks), and he was an airborne officer assigned to a psychological warfare unit on Okinawa, Thailand and Vietnam. The only time he and Al ever served together was in the Nixon White House.

Al was famous for loving to use big words and weaving long sentences together. He had a friendly, running word-smith battle with Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige.

When I worked for Secretary Baldrige, he stressed the importance of the government speaking in "plain English." He had a list of his "no-no words" and if someone entered them in the Office of Public Affairs computers, they came out as capitalized X's. Words like "maximize,""utilize" or "effectuate" The Secretary thought making his people write in plain English was just simple, good management. He also despised redundancies such as "serious crisis," "future plans," "new initiatives" or "end result"

I tell you this because Baldrige liked to talk about Al Haig. He would say, "Now Al can be just as direct and straightforward as anybody. But when he thought the occasion demanded it, he could obfuscate or cloud up the answer by the way he used the language. I've had a lot of fun with Al."

The secretary told his Alexander Haig story so often that it was filed with his speeches with the single word "Haig." He would start out speeches by saying that he was "sorry that my friend Al Haig could not have attended today. But he sends his regrets. 'I deeply regret that I am unable to optimize this point in time to achieve a meaningful interface with your multifaceted organization in its function of facilitating clear and direct articulation of the English language system.' Then Baldrige would pause, look at his audience and say, " I think he means he won't be able to make it."

Secretary Baldrige instructed us staffers to write in a style halfway between Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey, and to use no "Bureaucratise." We bought up every paperback by Grey we could find in the blocks around the Commerce Department, trying to make sure we knew what was expected of us.

I learned a great deal from my Baldrige experience, but in the long run I think we write like we write and we talk like we talk. It makes us, well, us. General Haig had an amazing vocabulary and he seemed to delight in stringing lots of words together in one sentence. One evening as he spoke to a group of Korn/Ferry International partners and spouses, at the end of a very long sentence, I turned to Ron and said, "Huh?" He quietly suggested I zip my lip, and I did.

General Haig was a true patriot and memorable man who served his country well. He will be missed.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Record Breaking Day

The President's Day event at the Richard Nixon Library broke all sorts of records. It was great!

Attendance was 5,068 folks, who spent $7,127.97 in the Museum Shop and ate and drank $1,118.65 worth in the Museum Cafe.

C-span 3 will begin airing it on, Sunday, February 21, 2010, several times. We had a problem finding C-span 3 on DirecTV or our cable company. If you are having the same experience, you can "google" and look for 3 in the cable lineup. They call the programming on that channel, AH, for American History. It came across just great. Fun to see so many old pals in the audience, and I am especially proud of the panelists. Dwight Chapin, Steve Bull, Larry Higby, Ron Walker and Dave Parker via film were outstanding. What a great accomplishment to get all the "Haldeman as Chief of Staff" expertise on the record for people to study and decide for themselves how they view the Nixon administration.

We celebrated after the panel, with a special gathering in our Yorba Linda rented house. Readers of this blog know that we refer to it as "camping" because of the limited furnishings and lack of the creature comforts we take for granted in our other homes. As much as we complain about the cold and cavernous "Coyote Base," it is the perfect place to hold a seated dinner party for 56 people. Think about it, that's a huge truck load of chairs, tables and eating utensils.

The Anaheim White House restaurant loves it too. They don't often get to cater in a place where they can transform empty rooms into works of art. Flowers, flags, candles, gleaming crystal and china brought elegance to life. Amine, Geronimo, and all the other hard working staff are wonderful to work with. The fact that there were three blazing gas fireplaces, including one in an enclosed courtyard for alfresco dining under the stars added to the ambiance of a wonderful evening where old Nixon era staff and pals could gather and reminisce. It was also a remarkable opportunity for some of the Nixon Foundation's young staff to spend time with many of the people who "lived it". Those who were there that evening tell us that it was an invaluable time to listen, learn and appreciate what those days were really like. That is something they say has been missing from the day to day operations at the Library. Ron and I are so grateful that these exchanges are happening at last. Yes, they could and should have been done years ago and perhaps we will never fully understand why they weren't.

During the panel, Dwight Chapin joked about Haldeman's use of the TL2 symbol (Too little, too late.) but in this case, it's BLTN (Better Late Than Never!) We couldn't be doing what we are doing now, five or ten years from now. We are losing valuable insight way too often now: Bill Safire and Al Haig are perfect examples.

It felt good to feel good about old times. But as Dwight Chapin and the panelist pointed out, they represented many. That was very much on their minds as they put the panel together and selected photos and memos. You know if you are one of those, "many." Thank you, also, for all you did and continue to do. Please know you were missed.

News flash: The reclusive Dick Howard showed up, unannounced, to watch the panel. Ron spotted him and blew his cover and I made him sit with Lisa and Marja, but he wouldn't stay for the dinner. Too bad, because many of us miss spending time with him. He was a valuable member of the Nixon team and his involvement now would lend a great deal of insight. Which reminds me, it is not too late for others to get involved. Other panels to put on the historic record include, the Environment, the trip to China, National Security, Nominating Conventions, Presidential Advancing, Speech writing, and so much more. What was your area of expertise? What other panel topics would you suggest?

A personal note, a prerogative of having your own blog: Why in the world do we need to be able to take loaded guns into NATIONAL PARKS? I don't get it, so perhaps I must be missing a Charleton Heston moment . . . . or something? Hunting is not allowed in any of our National Parks, so the point would be? Ron joined eight other former National Park Directors in opposing loaded guns in our parks. Obviously, their letter was ignored.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Troops Rallied


It is quite heartwarming and amazing to see what is happening here in Yorba Linda, California. Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile may remember the one I wrote about our trip to "Rally the Troops." That was back in September, 2009. Well, the troops rallied. Big Time. President's Day will be the scene of the second Nixon Legacy Panels. A special panel will discuss the "Effective Use of the President's Time."

The panelists are Dwight Chapin, Steve Bull, Larry Higby and Ron Walker. In my mind it is really going to be the "Bob Haldeman Panel." Bob was the genius behind the efficient way the Nixon White House operated on a daily basis. He believed the key word in his title was STAFF. Chief of STAFF to the President of the United States! You didn't see him on the Sunday talk shows, because he didn't consider TV appearances to be part of his job description. It is exciting that this part of history will be discussed by four men who worked for Bob Haldeman, and recorded by C-span. Because of this panel, future generations of presidential scholars will have more information with which to judge the Nixon Administration.

Some of you will be interested to read the names of those who heard the call to rally, and have made plans to be here on President's Day. Most notable will be twenty-two members of the Haldeman family. Jo Haldeman will be leading the pack of children, grand children and Bob's brother's family. Ron and I will be hosting a dinner here at "Coyote Base" and as of this moment, it looks like it will be a reunion and a happening.

From the military: Jack Brennan, the Marine aide to President Nixon and Gene Boyer, the pilot of Marine One will both be here along with Carl Burhannan, the first black presidential helicopter pilot. It is because of Colonel Boyer's hard work and persistence that the Library has the Presidential Helicopter on the grounds. It is a favorite exhibit of many of our visitors.

An old friend to many, Herb Kalmbach, will be here.

From the Domestic Council: Geoff Shepard, who did such a great job moderating the first Nixon Legacy panel, and panelist James Cavanaugh are coming. Also, John Brown, former Staff Secretary and his wife Noelle who worked for Gordon Strachan and later the Committee to Re-elect the President. (I refuse to refer to it as CREEP)

Special counselor, Frank Gannon will be on hand. Actually, we wish he could be here every day, but he's got another life on the Eastern Shore, helping some of our old pals write their very important stories of what happened and why.

From the White House Advance Office: Jon Foust and Doug Blaser, along with volunteer advance men, John Pitchess, Peter Murphy, Larry Eastland and Wayne Whitehill.

From the Press Office: Bruce Whelihan, and Tim Elbourne's, widow, Inge will be here. She recently married Bob Frohn and theirs is a wonderful story. The Elbourne's and the Frohn's were across-the-street neighbors for many years in Anaheim Hills, California. Both Inge and Bob suffered the loss of children, and then spouses. When Bob heard that Tim had died and Inge had moved to San Luis Opisbo, he decided to drive up and offer his condolences. It was no quick trip. It was a four hour drive. He arrived with a large bouquet of roses. They spent time together. They cried together. They comforted each other. Bob made the trip often, and always arrived with an armload of roses. A couple of weeks ago, they got married. Inge is getting ready to move into the house across the street from where she used to live. Those of you who know Inge will be smiling at this moment. Especially if you had not heard the news.

From the Television office: The late Bill Carruthers two sons will be here.

And from the Secretarial Support office: Terry Decker Goodsen

Ron and I are especially excited that his sister Kaye Walker Ingerson and brother-in-law Mike Ingerson will be with us, joining our daughters Marja Walker and Lisa Walker Hart and Marcia Howard Schoenbaum and her husband Steve. Long-time aide to Governor Pete Wilson, Bob White, will also be on hand.

Those of you who are interested, be watching for it on C-Span.

I plan on doing another blog about the President's Day festivities, but I can't sign off without singing the praises of our amazing and hard working folks here at the RN Foundation. First, there is the incredible Sandy Quinn, who knows everybody that is anybody in the State, and probably on Planet Earth. Sandy makes the library run, something he has done from the day the place opened. All of the "out in front" folks plus the people who move tables and chairs constantly as events happen and the people who make the Museum Store vibrate with excitement every single day are a great bunch of hard workers.

Keep in mind, that President's Day will be a free day. "George Washington" will be on hand giving out cherry pies. All this excitement means the Museum Store will be a hot bed of constant activity. And as I've told you before, our Docents will be on hand and making the day extra special for all who come.

The Anaheim White House Restaurant will be doing our dinner here at Coyote Base. How could a Presidential Library ask for a caterer with a better name?. They are worthy of the title and great to work with. We'll raise a toast, "To The President."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Now That's More Like It!


At long last, a favorable front page story in a major newspaper about President Nixon. Praise the Press. Hip, Hip, Hooray. Take that you archivist nattering nabobs of negativisms.

The Los Angeles Times on Thursday, January 14, 2010 had a front page picture and story about the December 21, 1970 Oval Office meeting between President Nixon and Elvis Presley. Faye Fiore, reporting from Washington, says, "The king wanted to meet the president. A famous photo was snapped and the rest is history. But wait, there's more."

That's an intriguing tease. It's a fun read, check it out on

Working as a volunteer in the Museum Store at the Library, I knew that any mementos with pictures of the president and Elvis are big sellers. We have shot glasses, breath mint boxes, playing cards, post cards, coffee mugs, etc. I have often marveled that copies of the photo that shows the president in a suit and the king of rock and roll in his white pointed collar shirt and purple velvet cape are requested more often that just about any other treasures in the National archives, including the Constitution.

To honor Elvis' 75th birthday, Nixon White House staffer Bud Krogh and Presley's friend, Jerry Schilling met for the first time in almost 40 years at the National Archives in Washington. They reminisced about the day "Elvis Met Nixon," the title of Bud Krogh's book. Schilling also wrote a book, "Me and a Guy Named Elvis."

Bud wasn't our only long-time pal involved with this event. Dwight Chapin is probably the one who was most instrumental in getting the meeting to take place in the first place. Elvis and Schilling dropped off a letter requesting a meeting with the President in the middle of the night. They gave it to a White House security guard. It was on Dwight's desk when he came to work the next morning. Dwight sends a quick memo to Krogh, who actually thinks it is a joke. Dwight always did love a good joke, so Bud acted just like most of us would have under those circumstances. Elvis wants to meet with the President. Yea, sure. But Bud decides to play along and call the Washington Hotel, for Jon Burrows in room 505, as Dwight suggested. He is actually quite impressed that Dwight found some one so good at impersonating an Elvis Presley gopher. But as he listens, he becomes convinced it is for real. He fires off a memo to chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, who also thinks they are kidding, but approves the meeting.

What did Elvis want? Why did he request a meeting with the President? The 5 page letter he wrote on American Airlines stationery, reportedly only the fourth letter he wrote in his whole life, states that he wanted to help fight the war on drugs. Mostly he wanted a great, big badge to add to his badge collection. He wanted a badge that identified him as a federal agent-at-large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. When the President finally says, "get him the badge," Elvis is so excited that he hugs the President. They exchange gifts. Elvis gets presidential trinkets and then the secret service realizes they have a problem. Elvis has brought a gun to give to the President. He presents it to him. The meeting is over.

Elvis spends more time in the White House. He has lunch in the White House Mess. (Wish I could ask another pal, Ron Jackson, who ran the White House Mess for years, what he remembers about that day.) Incredibly, the meeting remained a secret for thirteen months. Can you imagine that happening today?

The letter to the President has been released from the National Archives. The gun is on display in our Library. The badge, with Elvis' name on it, is on display at Graceland.

Elvis registered at the Washington Hotel using the name Jon Burrows. That was supposedly a name he used in one of his movies. Anyone know which movie? Bud Krogh probably does. He is quoted as saying he is a big Elvis fan and "never went on a date without him."

Oh, and of course the reporter did have to get in a few negatives in her epilogue. You know, the usual stuff; the resignation, who went to jail and for how long, and the fact that Elvis died from an overdose. Fourteen prescription drugs were found in his system. (Wish Michael Jackson had learned something besides cool moves from Elvis.) The President later noted that his friend Elvis did not have any illegal drugs in his system.

Thanks Dwight, Bud and Bob for what had to be a fun and exciting day in the Nixon White House.