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.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing another great story, Anne. This is another legacy keeper.