Today, March 16, 2012, is the centenary of Mrs. Thelma “Pat” Ryan Nixon’s birth. I am about to go give a speech about her at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, and this is what I am going to say:
Patricia Ryan didn’t have affirmative action that got her into an Ivy League college even if her grades were not good and got her a big scholarship. Her grades were great but she didn’t have affirmative action. She didn’t have anything given to her because she was a woman.
She had to work for everything. Her mother died when she was 12. She had to take care of the house. That’s a job. That’s a real job. She was a retail clerk, an x-ray technician, a janitor sweeping floors at a bank. She worked. She later said that she didn’t have time to day dream. She was too busy working.
Her father died when she was 17. She didn’t inherit money.
She had to work. At 18, from a small town near here called Artesia, now called Cerritos, she moved to New York City to work as a secretary and to teach office skills. That was a daring step, especially in the Great Depression.
She was beautiful. She was smart. But above all, she worked.
I keep saying this because this is what America used to be: young men and women, middle aged men and women — we all worked. That was what life was: work.
It wasn’t organizing your community and asking the government to do things for you — which is really just demanding that taxpayers do things for people who don’t pay taxes.
Mrs. Nixon — as she came to be — worked.
Most people don’t know this, but when she met Mr. Nixon at an amateur production of a play, he fell so in love with her that he would drive her on dates to meet other men just to spend more time with her. That was because Richard Nixon worked, too.
They were both workers. They were workers among workers, parents among parents, fighting a war to save freedom among other fighters.
Most people don’t know this either, but Mrs. Nixon fought against racial prejudice all her life. She didn’t see color or race. She saw the human heart underneath.
Most people don’t know this either. But when Mr. Nixon was in the Navy in the South Pacific, Mrs. Nixon was an economist in San Francisco for the government. I am sure she was a darned good one. She would know enough not to throw a trillion dollars away on fantasy solar power projects and the like. She would probably have known better than to have wage and price controls, too.
She married Mr. Nixon because she saw charisma in that young man. She saw that he was going places and she saw his fun-loving interior under the serious, hard-working exterior. When Mr. Nixon ran for Congress in 1946, she didn’t necessarily want him to go into politics, but she worked on his campaign because she was his wife and in that day, wives and husbands worked together.
She worked to get a Congress that would steer America in a pro-American direction after World War II. She worked to get Richard Nixon into Congress so he could fight the influence of men and women who could not or would not see the dangers of Stalinism and Stalin’s admirers in the USA.
She grew into a valuable campaign researcher, and she worked at that when Mr. Nixon ran for the Senate and then when he ran for Vice President on the ticket with one of the greatest men of all time, General Dwight Eisenhower of Kansas.
When, in the 1952 campaign, the smear artists started in on Mr. Nixon with completely phony charges of a slush fund of illegal money from wealthy contributors, Mrs. Nixon was by his side, as he was telling the truth, defending the man she loved and the cause she loved: the cause of freedom.
When Mr. Nixon gave his famous Checkers speech explaining that he was far from rich, that he had no slush fund, that he was barely solvent, his beautiful Pat was sitting right next to him. He said some words that are haunting about Mrs. Nixon. He talked about what a fine stenographer she was but that he did not put her on the Senate payroll the way many other Senators did with their wives.
And he added that in their modest circumstances, Mrs. Nixon did not have a mink coat. What she did have was “a respectable Republican cloth coat… and I always tell her she would look good in anything.”
There is a little more to the note about the mink coat than you might think. Some Truman aides had gotten mink coats in return for favors for well-heeled contributors and RN wanted to distinguish his honest way of doing business from that of his opponents. But the point was much bigger than that: Mrs. Nixon was a respectable, hard-working woman. She did not need a fur coat the show off her status. She was a respectable woman and all she needed was a respectable coat that would keep her warm in the cold Washington winters.
That has always seemed to me the essence of Pat Nixon. She did not need to show off. She was such a fine woman that all she needed to do was be who she was. That was plenty.
Mrs. Nixon became the Vice President’s wife. She traveled all over the world to advance the causes of peace and freedom with Mr. Nixon. She went to dangerous places and got rocks thrown at her and had demonstrators spitting at her car in Venezuela.
Nothing stopped her from working for peace and for the cause of freedom.
She raised her daughters and raised them right. Julie has been my friend in particular for a long time. Julie has asked that I not gush over her so I won’t. Julie’s a saint. That’s all I’ll say. Like my wife, Julie’s a saint.
In 1960, Pat Nixon worked as hard as any human can work to help Mr. Nixon get elected. Everyone knows that the election was stolen from the Republicans that year by the Democrat machine in Illinois. Mrs. Nixon was in agony about it, but she abided by Mr. Nixon’s wish not to cause divisions by challenging the result.
The Kennedys, the exalted, mighty, elegant Kennedys, returned the favor by never once inviting the Nixons to the White House.
Time passed. Mrs. Nixon became in 1969 what she should have been in 1961 — First Lady. She was the hardest-working First Lady of the Century. She traveled all over the world, shook millions of hands, went to places like Africa where no First Lady had ever been before. She went to Vietnam and became the first First Lady to fly over a combat zone. She went with Mr. Nixon to Moscow to seek to end the Cold War.
She went to China and charmed Chou En-lai. She came back with two Giant Pandas and a new world order that gave rich promise of a generation of peace. That was always Mr. Nixon’s goal and Mrs. Nixon’s too — and they got it.
All the while, the beautiful people, the pretty people in New York and Hollywood and Washington, were calling Mrs. Nixon names and making fun of her for being square and a loyal wife. In their world, “working” is a joke and so is loyalty to your husband. Not in Mrs. Nixon’s world.
But the mockery did not stop her from traveling the world over helping lepers, helping the starving, helping the blind, helping the elderly. Mrs. Nixon just had too much love in her heart to be delayed in her missions by the mockery of the pretty people and the power players.
The jesters and mockers might mock, but Mrs. Nixon had to work.
Then came Watergate and the worst smears ever against her and Mr. Nixon. She and her husband still had to work — saving Eretz Israel and building a foundation of peace in the Middle East. Creating arms control with Russia. Making the world a safer, more plentiful place.
But this time, the mockers and the haters had their day. Over trivia, over nothing, over something small, the greatest peacemaker ever to occupy the White House was made to leave.
A very smart friend once said that there are certain kids on the beach who can build sand castles — and there are other kids who can knock them down. That was Watergate.
Mr. and Mrs. Nixon could build castles of peace and love. The beautiful people could knock them down — and they did as much as they could. But the structure of peace Mr. and Mrs. Nixon made has lasted until now.
We have gone 67 years without a war between and among the major powers, the longest since there were major powers in the industrial age. There is danger everywhere but we still live in a world at peace among the major powers in a house that Richard and Patricia Nixon built.
Richard Nixon said in his autobiography, “I was born in a house my father built.” The whole Western world now lives in a house of peace — moment by moment — that Richard and Pat Nixon — the woman in the “respectable Republican cloth coat” — built.
“In my father’s house there are many mansions,” says the carpenter. The most beautiful is the house of peace. God bless Richard and Pat Nixon.