Thursday, March 2, 2017

Nixon Alumni Reunion

We gathered at the NEW Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California in February for a Nixon Alumni reunion.  It was a smaller group than the crowds on hand for the pre-grand opening last October. But smaller somehow made it seem more intimate and much more emotional for so many of us.

Ron and I were accompanied by two of our daughters, Lisa and Marja, and our two grandsons Hugh and Jake.  Alas, Lynne and Barry were frolicking in Hawaii at a beautiful wedding.
Hugh Hart, Jake Hart, Marja Walker, me, Lisa Walker Hart and Ron Walker in front of Norman Rockwell's portrait.

After watching the movie and taking a tour of the exhibits, Ron, as Chairman of the Nixon Foundation, took the prerogative of introducing the White House advance staff that were present at the luncheon in the East Room.  Red Cavaney, Alan Hall, Gordon Straughan, Julie Rowe Cooke, Bill Moeller, John Pitchess and Keith Kretchmaier.  Also on hand was Jack Brennan, the President's Marine aide, Chet Ward, the president's doctor,  and two men from the White House Communications Agency, (WHCA), Fred Swift and Tony Koppi.  These people had traveled the world with President Nixon, and were so happy to be together again, after so many years.

Then, as he so often does, Ron called on some in the audience to say what was their favorite part of the exhibits we had just seen.  Almost to a person, they said the movie.  (Oscars go to Frank Gannon, Dwight Chapin, and their brilliant team of consultants)

 Red Cavaney speaks to the group 
The film didn't waste a heart beat, it started with Watergate, the resignation, and boom, it was over . THEN the movie talked about the man, his humble beginnings, and his many, many amazing accomplishments.  The walk through the exhibits after the movie was a walk down memory lane for so many of us.  Many could be overheard pointing out themselves in exhibit photos.  I think probably Hugh and Jake's favorite part was seeing who was first in finding GranGran in many, many photographs.  They soon found that he was most often in the back somewhere, doing his "staff job" with a passion for anonymity that was Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman's trademark.

And that brings me to our role today.  Ron often asks me, "Why Me?"  Why am I the Chair of the Nixon Foundation?  I was always just a little guy, "Painting hand signs, blowing up balloons, and putting asses on seats."

I guess there is not an easy answer, but Hugh Hewitt, as a moderator of one of the panels about the Nixon presidency, said this:  When we were building the library, we called on Ron Walker for help and he came out and made things happen.  So much in fact, that we gave him a bull whip at the Grand Opening.  When we buried Mrs. Nixon, Ron Walker came and oversaw the funeral arrangements.  When we buried the President, Ron Walker came and again helped make all the arrangements.  When we needed new leadership in the disarray of the Taylor/Naftali time, Ron and Anne Walker, and their family and doggies,  moved to Yorba Linda and worked tirelessly to provide leadership and right the ship.

The docents, the heart and soul of the library, and just about every staff person, will often mention and second these opinions.

During this recent reunion, we were gathered in the lobby, when a group of High School students were about to start their tour.  They were standing around, looking bored, staring at their phones, when Ron walked into their midst.  He introduced himself and started telling them stories about the 37th President.  You could see the looks on their faces change dramatically as they were given an up close and personal history lesson.  I'll bet they will long remember their visit to the Nixon library, because of a close encounter with a man who lived it.

As a member of the Association of Presidential Libraries, I urge all of the other libraries, if you have anyone who was a part of your time in the White House, and who is still among the living,  invite them out, send them out among the visitors, and watch the magic happen.

 The start of the exhibits, visit and see it for yourself. 

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