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.