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.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nixon Legacy Lecture

President Nixon's son-in-law and grandson did him proud on his 97th birthday weekend. Christoper Cox introduced is father, Ed, this year's keynoter at the Nixon Legacy Lecture. Ed Cox, who from certain angles looks a great deal like George Herbert Walker Bush, talked about the President's discipline and intellect. He talked about personal experiences they shared. It was interesting to gain insight into the personality of the 37th President from someone who was a part of the family inner circle.

He said that President Nixon often met important visitors in the Cox's New York City apartment. Tricia often was called upon to be her father's hostess and help with the entertaining. Her father had a study there and spent a lot of time with the Coxes.

Ed has recently assumed the leadership of the New York State Republican party. His first recruit to run for office is his son Christoper. Young Christoper Cox will be successful, it is in his DNA.

I won't try to duplicate everything that was said at this years Nixon Legacy Lecture. My daughter Marja reminded me that is not my job. The Nixon web site will handle that. Whew! The pressure is off. Go to "TNN:" to get the complete run down.

Past Nixon Lecture keynoters have been the President's brother, Ed Nixon (who John Whitaker calls Eddie), Herb Klein, former Senator Alan Simpson, former Congressman Jim Rogan, and former executive director, now turned Episcopal priest, John Taylor. Seeing this list reminded me what a total treasure Alan Simpson is. He's proud member of the American Humorist Hall of Fame. One year, on Lynne Cheney's birthday, a few of us visited the Wild Bill Buffalo Museum in Cody, Wyoming. Senator Simpson is a member of the Museum Board and greeted us upon arrival. When we were leaving, he told us he needed to ask our opinion about something. We gathered around, honored to be asked to opine by the likes of the good senator. He bent his lanky, tall-self down, gathered us close, and asked, "When the chips are down, does it mean the buffalo is empty?"

I would have loved to have been on hand when Alan Simpson gave his Nixon Legacy Lecture. It would be great if he'd bring his wonderful wife Anne and come to the library again, and very soon.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Celebrating 97!

President Nixon would have been 97 years old today. We are celebrating his Legacy in Yorba Linda.

Yesterday the Richard Nixon Foundation, and the folks at the National Archives co-sponsored a panel discussion "Domestic Policy Initiatives of the Nixon Years: Bringing Innovation and Progress to the American People." It was great.

Geoff Shepard set the stage by explaining how the model of the National Security Council was used to form the Domestic Council. This became the way policy was discussed, massaged and ranked. Eventually the ideas took on the form of a "White Paper" that went to the President. President Nixon preferred being able to study options in the form of a document, rather than having advisers presenting their views in person. He set aside time to review these papers in his small White House study. The model of how the National Security Council operated is a very interesting way to get things done. A policy would be introduced, and if the Congress did not reject it within 60 days, it was considered enacted. That';s what the Domestic Council put in place for their policies. A brilliant strategy that produced results.

James Cavanaugh talked about the health care initiatives of the Nixon administration. Such a timely topic right now, but even more amazing to realize is what could have been then. The "Family Assistance Program" was almost a done deal until the ever powerful Unions persuaded Senator Ted Kennedy that they were happy with their health care plan and didn't want it messed up. The Senator stopped his support of the Nixon program and the idea was defeated. What if indeed . . . . even Kennedy later expressed regret that it wasn't enacted in the early 1970's.

John Whitaker talked about the environment. The first "Earth Day" and the establishing of the Environmental Protection Agency. "White Papers" on the subjects of clean air and clean water resulted in the Acts that bear those names. President Nixon was responsible for those major initiatives and it is disturbing that he isn't given more credit for the many good things that were done.

Dick Fairbanks talked about energy, the Alaska pipeline, and many other exciting energy-related projects that most people had forgotten were started during the Nixon years.

For me, a young mother of three at the time, focused on our girls and running a household with a husband who traveled extensively, it was quite a learning experience to sit in the audience and hear the panel talk about the accomplishments of those years. In our home, the conversations were more often about the President's travel plans than about his policies. You can imagine, the major issues of the day were things like, Dad can't go to Lisa's parent-teacher conference because the President will be going to Whitney Young's funeral in Lexington, Kentucky. Or, Dad won't be at Marja's school play because the President will be giving a speech in Chicago. Or, Dad won't be able to make Lynne's track meet because the President will be at the Lincoln Day dinner in New York. That's the kind of stuff the Walker family talked about. I'll bet the four Whitaker boys and their Mom, Betty, talked about Environmental issues around their dinner table, when they had finished talking about sports, of course.

Needless to say, I learned so much from that panel discussion and urge you to watch for it to appear on C-span.

Tricia Nixon Cox, her husband Ed, and son Christoper flew out from New York to join us for the events of the week-end. On Saturday, Tricia laid a wreath at the grave-site of her parents. It was a moving ceremony, made even more special and Presidential, by the participation of the Sea Cadets, Troy High School Junior ROTC, our military leadership of tomorrow. Robbie Britt, a man with an amazing voice, wowed the crowd when he sang, "God Bless America," and then asked the large crowd to join him in singing that wonderful song again. Sandy Quinn, always the masterful master of ceremonies, worked his usual magic. It would have been perfect, if the Eisenhower family had been able to join us, too. They were missed.

Tricia also met with all of the wonderful docents and had a group photo taken. The docents, in their red, white and blue uniforms, as far as I am concerned, are the heart and soul of this Presidential Library. They are dedicated and well informed. As Ron said recently, "the docents know everything about this place." He was right. They really do. I still haven't figured out why they are no longer allowed to conduct the school tours. Such a waste of their vast knowledge and their twenty years of experience. Perhaps it is because they are TOO COMPLIMENTARY of the President when they talk about him and his family. Certainly we have now learned that archivist prefer to talk about mistakes and mis-steps. The very first work-day after we celebrated the President's birthday and talked about his legacy in positive terms, we were once again bombarded in the press by the latest release of documents. Not one news item was positive. As much as they want everyone to read and hear about the negatives, we can take heart because we know that is really not the way it was. Not completely. We celebrated that fact on the President's 97th birthday.

We also saluted a great American Hero on Saturday. Commander Everett Alvarez, Jr., the longest held POW in Vietnam, received the First, "Great American Hero" award from the Richard Nixon Presidential Foundation. Ron and I have proudly called Everett and Tammy Ilyas Alvarez dear friends for many years. Ron was at the bottom of the airplane ramp when Everett and the other POW's arrived home to freedom. What an emotional moment that was, the day when the American Heros finally came home. Everett had been a "Chained Eagle", the title of his book, for eight and a half years.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. A Happy 97th Birthday party that brought almost four thousand people to the grounds of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.

We'll keep plodding away here in Yorba Linda. Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy New Year

How does that song go? "What a difference a day makes, twenty four little hours . . . "

I can't believe what a difference a year makes. Last Christmas we were happily retired and visiting Lynne and Barry in GeorgeTown, Kentucky. We rented "Carol the Christmas Cruiser" from Cruise America. Ron, Marja, Kodai, Lulubelle, and I picked up Lisa and the boys and left Tucson on a cold, rainy and very dark mid-December morning. Luckily, departure morning was the only time we experienced bad weather on the whole trip. The ice and storms hit when we were safely in Kentucky, warm inside Muddy Ford. On the night that Stephen Hart flew in to join us, Lisa and the boys went to the Blue Grass airport to pick him up while icy rain was pelting down. On the drive back to Muddy Ford, they were stopped by Kentucky troopers and they ended up walking the rest of the way home. Quite an exciting adventure for people who live in the Sonoran desert.

If anyone had said we'd be spending the 2009 Christmas at Coyote Base in California, unretired and camping, we would have said, HUH Are you crazy? Have you noticed how the word retired ends? That's us.

Tired, yes, but making a difference. That's what counts.

Ron has assumed the leadership at the Richard Nixon Presidential Foundation with his usual determination and great ideas. With the help of Sandy Quinn, Frank Gannon, Dwight Chapin, Anthony Curtis, Jonathan Movroydis, and many others, this year is shaping up to be an exciting twentieth anniversary celebration of the opening of the Library celebration.

This weekend we will celebrate RN's 97th Birthday. Everett Alvarez will receive the first American Hero Award from Tricia Nixon Cox. Ed Cox will give an East Room talk about the President's legacy after he is introduced by Christopher, the President's grandson.

As we witness a leadership lapse from the White House these days, we naturally stop and ask, "What would Nixon do?" The library will be holding talks and reflecting on that question in the year ahead. We welcome your opinions. Check out "" and let us hear from you.

The first in a series of RN Legacy Forums will focus on the Domestic Policy Initiatives of the Nixon years. It is so exciting to be welcoming those people who were the leaders of those policies during the Nixon administration. The first panel will be moderated by Geoff Shepard and will include James Cavanaugh, Dick Fairbanks, John Whitaker and Fred Malek. The important permanent archival record these panels will create is very important and long over due. Ron and I will host a dinner here at Coyote Base on Thursday night. The panel will kick off on Friday the 8th and Ambassador George Argyros and his wife Julia will host a dinner at the Library that evening. On Saturday, it's free admission day in honor of the President's 97th. Tricia will lay a wreath at the grave site. Those of you in the area, please come and join us.

Yep, we've come a long way since we took Carol the Christmas Cruiser to Kentucky. Literally. Both in miles and mission. But, we learned many good things from the experience.

Here's some lessons from a Cruiser:
When riding the road, hang on to the fun. Brace for the unexpected bump in the road. Look out for the ups and downs. You can have fun anywhere if you really want to. Thank God each night for the blessings of the day.

And perhaps these can apply to "Lessons from a Presidential Library" too.
And I'll add:
Be grateful for the opportunity have been a part of it.
Cherish the friendships of those with whom you made history.
Honor the memory.
Preserve the history and don't let others re-write it.
Stay involved.