Pat Nixon

Pat Nixon

Infobox First Lady
name = Thelma "Pat" Nixon

birth_date = birth date|mf=yes|1912|3|16
birth_place = Ely, Nevada, U.S.
death_date =death date and age|mf=yes|1993|6|22|1912|3|16
death_place = Park Ridge, New Jersey, U.S.
occupation = First Lady of the United States
office1=First Lady of the United States
term_start1=January 20, 1969
term_end1=August 9, 1974
predecessor1= Lady Bird Johnson
successor1= Betty Ford
office2=Second Lady of the United States
term_start2=January 20, 1953
term_end2=January 20, 1961
predecessor2= Jane Hadley Barkley
successor2= Lady Bird Johnson
spouse = Richard Nixon
children = Tricia, Julie
parents = William Ryan, Sr. and Katherine Halberstadt
religion = Methodist

Thelma Catherine "Pat" Ryan Nixoncite web |url=|title=First Lady Biography: Pat Nixon|accessdate= 2007-08-15|year= 2005|publisher= The National First Ladies Library] (March 16, 1912 – June 22, 1993) was the wife of Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States, and served as First Lady of the United States from 1969 to 1974. She was commonly known as Pat Nixon.

Born in Nevada, Pat Ryan grew up in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from high school in 1929, then attended Fullerton Junior College and later the University of Southern California. She paid for her schooling by working multiple jobs, including pharmacy manager, typist, and X-ray technician. In 1940, she married lawyer Richard Nixon; they had two daughters. Pat campaigned for her husband in his successful congressional campaigns of 1946 and 1948. Later, she became the "Second Lady of the United States" when her husband was elected Vice President under Dwight D. Eisenhower. In that position, Pat undertook many missions of goodwill with her husband and gained favorable media coverage. She assisted her husband both in his unsuccessful 1960 presidential campaign, and later his successful campaign of 1968.

As First Lady, Pat Nixon promoted a number of charitable causes, including volunteerism. She oversaw the collection of more than 600 pieces of historic art and furnishings for the White House, an acquisition larger than that of any other administration. Pat became the most traveled First Lady in U.S. history up to that time, visiting about 80 nations; she was the first First Lady to visit a combat zone. These trips gained her favorable reception in the media and the host countries. Her tenure ended when, after being re-elected in a landslide victory in 1972, President Nixon resigned two years later amid the Watergate scandal.

Her public appearances became less frequent in her later life. She and her husband returned to California, and later moved to New Jersey. Pat suffered two strokes—one in 1976 and another in 1983—and was later diagnosed with lung cancer in the early 1990s. She died in 1993 aged 81.

Early life

Thelma Catherine Ryan was born in the small mining town of Ely, Nevada, the day before St. Patrick's Day. Her father, William M. Ryan, Sr., was a sailor, gold miner, and truck farmer of Irish descent. Her mother, Katherine Halberstadt, was a German immigrant.

Pat was a nickname given to her by her father, referring to her birthdate and Irish ancestry. Upon enrolling in college in 1931 she dropped her first name of Thelma, replacing it with Pat and occasionally rendering it as Patricia; the name change, however, was not a legal action, merely one of preference. [cite news|author=Halloran, Richard|title=First Lady of the Land at 60: Thelma Catherine Ryan Nixon, Woman in the News|work=The New York Times|date=March 16, 1972|accessdate=2007-11-09] [cite news|author=Kinnard, Judith M.|title=Thelma Ryan's Rise: From White Frame to White House|work=The New York Times|date=August 20, 1971|accessdate=2007-11-09] [As a teenager, she was also known as Buddy. Thelma Ryan's high-school yearbook page gives her nickname as Buddy and her ambition to run a boarding house. The page is reproduced as an illustration in the following article: Kinnard, Judith M., "Thelma Ryan's Rise: From White Frame to White House", "The New York Times", August 20, 1971]

After her birth, the Ryan family moved near Los Angeles, California, and in 1914 settled on a small truck farm in Artesia (present-day Cerritos). [cite news|title=First Lady Hailed on Return 'Home'|work=The New York Times|date=September 6, 1969|page=18|accessdate=2007-11-09] During this time she worked on the family farm, and also at a local bank as a janitor and bookkeeper. Her mother died of cancer in 1924.cite news|title=Pat Nixon, Former First Lady, Dies at 81|work=The New York Times|date=July 23, 1993|page=D22|accessdate=2007-11-09|url=] Pat, who was 12 at the time, assumed all the household duties for her father, who died in 1929 of silicosis, and two older brothers, William Jr. (1910–1997) and Thomas (1911–1992). She also had a half-sister, Neva Bender (born 1909), and a half-brother, Matthew Bender (born 1907), from her mother's first marriage; her mother's first husband had died during a flash flood in South Dakota.

Education and career

It has been said that few, if any First Ladies worked as consistently before their marriage as did Pat Nixon. As she told the writer Gloria Steinem during the 1968 presidential campaign, "I never had it easy. I never had time to think about things like ... who I wanted to be or whom I admired, or to have ideas. I never had time to dream about being anyone else. I had to work."cite news|author=Viorst, Judith|title=Pat Nixon Is the Ultimate Good Sport|work=The New York Times|date=September 13, 1970|page=SM13|accessdate=2007-11-09]

After graduating from Excelsior High School in 1929, Pat Ryan attended Fullerton Junior College. She paid for her education by working odd jobs, including as a driver, a pharmacy manager, a telephone operator, and a typist. She also earned money sweeping the floors of a local bank, and from 1930 until 1932, she lived in New York City, working as a secretary and an X-ray technician.

Determined "to make something out of myself", she enrolled in 1931 at the University of Southern California (USC), where she majored in merchandising. As a former professor noted, "She stood out from the empty-headed, overdressed little sorority girls of that era like a good piece of literature on a shelf of cheap paperbacks."cite news|title=The Silent Partner|work=Time|date=February 29, 1960|accessdate=2007-11-09|url=,9171,873226-1,00.html] The young Ryan held part-time jobs on campus, worked as a sales clerk in Bullock's-Wilshire department store, taught typing and shorthand at a high school, and supplemented her income by working as an extra in the film industry. She appeared as part of a brief walk-on in the 1935 film "Becky Sharp", as well as the 1936 film "The Great Ziegfeld". [cite web |url=|title=The Great Ziegfeld (1936)|accessdate=2007-10-02|year= 2007|publisher=Internet Movie Database, Inc]

In 1937, Pat Ryan graduated "cum laude" from USC with a Bachelor of Science degree in merchandising, together with a certificate to teach at the high school level, which USC deemed equivalent to a Master's degree. [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), p. 48] Pat accepted a position as a high school teacher in Whittier, California.cite web|url=|title=Patricia Ryan Nixon|accessdate=2008-08-01|publisher=The White House]

Marriage and family

While in Whittier, Pat Ryan met a young lawyer fresh out of Duke University, Richard Milhous Nixon. The two became acquainted at a Little Theater group when they were cast together in "The Dark Tower". Known as Dick, he asked Pat Ryan to marry him the first night they went out. "I thought he was nuts or something!" she recalled. [cite news|title=Diplomat in High Heels: Thelma Ryan Nixon|work=The New York Times|date=July 28, 1959|page=11|accessdate=2007-11-09] He courted the redhead he called his "wild Irish Gypsy" for two years, [Marton, Kati (2001), p. 173] even driving her to and from her dates with other men. Eventually they married at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California on June 21, 1940. She said that she had been attracted to the young Nixon because he "was going places, he was vital and ambitious ... he was always doing things". Later, referring to Richard Nixon, she said, "Oh but you just don’t realize how much fun he is! He’s just so much fun!" While Richard Nixon served in the Navy during World War II, Pat worked as a government economist living in San Francisco.

Veteran UPI reporter Helen Thomas suggested that in public, the Nixons "moved through life ritualistically", but privately, however, they were "very close". In private, Richard Nixon was described as being "unabashedly sentimental", often praising Pat for her work, remembering anniversaries and surprising her with frequent gifts. During state dinners, he ordered the protocol changed so that Pat could be served first.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 173] Pat, in turn, felt that her husband was vulnerable and sought to protect him. Of his critics, she said that "Lincoln had worse critics. He was big enough not to let it bother him. That's the way my husband is."

=Early campaigns= Pat campaigned at her husband's side in 1946 when he entered politics, running successfully for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. That same year, she gave birth to a daughter and namesake, Patricia, known as Tricia. In 1948, Nixon had her second and last child, Julie. When asked about her husband's career, Pat once stated, "The only thing I could do was help him, but [politics] was not a life I would have chosen." [cite news|url=,9171,942982,00.html|title=Pat Nixon: Steel and Sorrow|accessdate=2008-08-18|work=Time|date=August 19, 2008] Pat participated in the campaign by doing research on his opponent, incumbent Jerry Voorhis. She also wrote and distributed campaign literature.cite encyclopedia| title =The American Presidency| encyclopedia = Encyclopædia Britannica | publisher =Encyclopædia Britannica| year= 2007| accessdate = 2007-11-05] Nixon was elected in his first campaign to represent California's 12th congressional district. During the next six years, Nixon saw her husband move from the U.S. House of Representatives to the United States Senate, and then be nominated as Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice presidential candidate.

Although Pat Nixon was a Methodist, she and her husband attended whichever Protestant Church was nearest to their home, especially after moving to Washington. They attended the Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church because it sponsored her daughters' Brownie troop, occasional Baptist services with the Reverend Dr. Billy Graham, and Norman Vincent Peale's Marble Collegiate Church. [cite web |url=,9171,844670-2,00.html|title=A Worshiper in the White House|accessdate= 2007-10-08|date=6|year= 1968|month= December|publisher=Time|pages=1–2]

econd Lady of the United States, 1953–1961

During the Presidential campaign of 1952 Pat Nixon's attitude toward politics changed when her husband was accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions. Pat encouraged him to fight the charges, and he did so by delivering the famed "Checkers Speech", so-called for the family's dog, a cocker spaniel given them by a political supporter. This was Pat's first national television appearance, and she, her daughters, and the dog were featured prominently. Defending himself as a man of the people, Nixon said of his wife, "I should say this, that Pat doesn't have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat, and I always tell her she would look good in anything." [cite web |url=|title=Richard Nixon's Checkers Speech|accessdate=2007-11-05|year=2002–2003|publisher=PBS] [In 1968, however, a fashion writer of "The New York Times" noted that Pat Nixon had purchased a coat made of blonde mink and one of brown-and-black Persian lamb by the furrier Sidney Fink of Blum & Fink. cite news|author=Curtis, Charlotte|title=Fashion Spotlight Turns to New First Family|work=The New York Times|date=December 21, 1968|accessdate=2007-11-09]

Pat Nixon accompanied her husband abroad in his vice presidential years. She visited 53 nations, often bypassing luncheons and teas and instead visiting hospitals, orphanages, and even a leper colony in Panama. On a trip to Venezuela, the Nixons' limousine was pelted with rocks and the couple was spat upon as representatives of the U.S. government.

A November 1, 1958 article in the "Seattle Times" was typical of the media's favorable coverage of the future First Lady, stating that "Mrs. Nixon is always reported to be gracious and friendly. And she sure is friendly. She greets a stranger as a friend. She doesn't just shake hands but clasps a visitor's hand in both her hands. Her manner is direct ... Mrs. Nixon also upheld her reputation of always looking neat, no matter how long her day has been." A year and a half later, during her husband's campaign for the presidency, "The New York Times" called her "a paragon of wifely virtues" whose "efficiency makes other women feel slothful and untalented". [cite news|author=Bender, Marylin|title=Pat Nixon: A Diplomat in High Heels|work=The New York Times|date=July 28, 1960|page=31|accessdate=2007-11-09]

Pat Nixon was named Outstanding Homemaker of the Year (1953), Mother of the Year (1955), and the Nation's Ideal Housewife (1957), and once admitted that she pressed all of her husband's suits one evening. "Of course, I didn't have to," she told "The New York Times", "But when I don't have work to do, I just think up some new project."

Her husband's campaigns—1960, 1962 and 1968

Vice-President Nixon ran for President of the United States in 1960 against then-Senator John F. Kennedy. Pat was featured prominently in the campaign; an entire advertisement campaign was built around the slogan "Pat for First Lady". Nixon conceded the election to Kennedy, although the race was very close and there were allegations of voter-fraud. [cite web |url=|title=Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debates, 1960|accessdate= 2007-10-08|author= Allen, Erika Tyner|publisher= Museum of Broadcast Communications] Pat had urged her husband to demand a recount of votes, though Nixon declined.O'Brien, C.; Suteski, M. (2005), p. 234] Pat was most upset about the television cameras, which recorded her reaction when her husband lost—"millions of television viewers witnessed her desperate fight to hold a smile upon her lips as her face came apart and the bitter tears flowed from her eyes", as one reporter put it. This permanently dimmed Pat Nixon's view of politics.

In 1962, the Nixons embarked on another campaign, this time for Governor of California. Prior to Richard Nixon's announcement of his candidacy, Pat's brother Tom Ryan said, "Pat told me that if Dick Ran for governor she was going to take her shoe to him."Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), pp. 205–206] She eventually agreed to another run, citing that it meant a great deal to her husband, but Richard Nixon lost the gubernatorial election to Pat Brown.

Six years later, Richard Nixon ran again for the presidency. Pat was reluctant to face another campaign, her eighth since 1946.Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), pp. 235, 237] Although she supported her husband in his career, she feared another "1960", when Nixon lost to Kennedy. She consented, however, and participated in the campaign by traveling on campaign trips with her husband. [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), p. 236] Richard Nixon would make a political comeback with his presidential victory of 1968 over Vice-President Hubert Humphrey—and the country would have a new First Lady.

First Lady of the United States, 1969–1974

Major initiatives

Pat Nixon felt that the First Lady should always set a public example of high virtue as a symbol of dignity, but she refused to revel in the trappings of the position.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 165] When considering ideas for a project as First Lady, Pat refused to do (or be) something simply to emulate her predecessor, Lady Bird Johnson. [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 168] She decided to continue what she called "personal diplomacy", which meant traveling and visiting people in other states or other nations. [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), p. 254]

One of her major initiatives as First Lady was the promotion of volunteerism, in which she encouraged Americans to address social problems at the local level through volunteering at hospitals, civic organizations, and rehabilitation centers.cite web |url=|title=Biography of First Lady Pat Nixon|accessdate= 2007-10-08|year= 2005|publisher= Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation] She stated, "Our success as a nation depends on our willingness to give generously of ourselves for the welfare and enrichment of the lives of others."Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 177] She undertook a "Vest Pockets for Volunteerism" trip, where she visited ten different volunteer programs. Susan Porter, in charge of the First Lady's scheduling, noted that Pat "saw volunteers as unsung heroes who hadn't been encouraged or given credit for their sacrifices and who needed to be". Her second volunteerism tour—she traveled convert|4130|mi|km|0 within the United States—helped to boost the notion that not all students were protesting the Vietnam War. [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 181] She herself belonged to several volunteer groups, including Women in Community Services and Urban Services League, and was an advocate of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, a bill that encouraged volunteerism by providing benefits to a number of volunteer organizations. [cite web|url=|title=Richard Nixon: Statement on Signing the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973|date=October 1, 1973|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=The American Presidency Project]

Additionally, Pat became involved in the development of recreation areas and parkland, was a member of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, and lent her support to organizations dedicated to improving the lives of handicapped children. For her first Thanksgiving in the White House, Pat organized a meal for 225 senior citizens who did not have families.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 178] The following year, she invited wounded servicemen to a second annual Thanksgiving meal in the White House. Though presidents since George Washington had been issuing Thanksgiving proclamations, Pat became the only First Lady to issue one.

Life in the White House

After her husband was elected president in 1968, Mrs. Nixon met with the outgoing First Lady Lady Bird Johnson and toured the private quarters of the White House on December 12. [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), pp. 260, 264] Eventually she asked Sarah Jackson Doyle—an interior decorator who had worked for the Nixons since 1965 and who decorated the family's 10-room apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York with French and English antiques—to serve as a design consultant. [cite news|author=Reif, Rita|title=A Decorator for Nixons Gives Julie A Bit of Help|work=The New York Times|date=November 30, 1968|accessdate=2007-11-09] She hired Clement Conger from the State Department to be the Executive Mansion's new curator. [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), pp. 261, 263]

Pat Nixon had an interest in adding artifacts to the Executive Mansion, and built on Jacqueline Kennedy's more publicized efforts. She added more than 600 paintings and furnishings to the White House and its collections, the largest number of acquisitions by any administration. She created the Map Room and renovated the China room, and refurbished nine others. She worked with engineers to develop an exterior lighting system for the entire White House, literally making it glow a soft white. She ordered the flag flown, day and night, even when the president was not there.

She ordered pamphlets describing the rooms of the house for tourists so they could understand everything, and had them translated into Spanish, French, Italian and Russian for foreigners. She had ramps installed for the handicapped and physically disabled. Pat instructed the police who served as tour guides to attend sessions at Winterthur (to learn how tours were guided "in a real museum"), and arranged for them to wear less menacing uniforms, with their guns hidden underneath. The tour guides were to speak slowly to deaf groups, to help those who lip-read, and Pat ordered that the blind be able to touch the antiques.

The First Lady had long been irritated with the perception that the White House was exclusively for the wealthy and famous:Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 188] she would routinely come down from the family quarters to greet tourists, shake hands, sign autographs, and pose for photos. She opened the White House for evening tours so that the public could see the interior design work that had been implemented. In addition, she instituted a series of performances by artists at the White House in varied American traditions, from opera to bluegrass; among the guests were The Carpenters in 1972. These events, however, were described as ranging from "creative to indifferent, to downright embarrassing". When they entered the White House in 1969, the Nixons began inviting families to non-denominational Sunday church services in the East Room of the White House. Mrs. Nixon also oversaw the White House wedding of her daughter, Tricia, to Edward Ridley Finch Cox in 1971. [cite news|author=Krebs, Alvin|title=More on the Wedding|work=The New York Times|date=May 11, 1972|accessdate=2007-11-09]

She spoke out in favor of women running for political office and encouraged her husband to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court, saying "woman power is unbeatable; I've seen it all across this country".cite news|author=Curtis, Charlotte|title=Pat Nixon: 'Creature Comforts Don't Matter'|work=The New York Times|date=July 3, 1968|accessdate=2007-11-09] She was the first of the American First Ladies to publicly support the Equal Rights Amendment, [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 194] , though her views on abortion were mixed. Following the Court's 1973 "Roe vs. Wade" decision, Pat stated she was pro-choice. However in 1972, she said, "I'm really not for abortion. I think it's a personal thing. I mean abortion on demand—wholesale." [cite news|title=Mrs. Nixon Asserts Jane Fonda Should Bid Hanoi End War|work=The New York Times|date=August 9, 1972|accessdate=2007-11-09]

In 1972, Pat became the first Republican First Lady to address a national convention. Her efforts in the 1972 reelection campaign—traveling across the country and speaking on behalf of her husband—were copied by future candidates' spouses.


thumb|right|The_Nixons_on_the_Great Wall of China during their historic trip, 1972] Pat Nixon held the record as the most-traveled First Lady before Hillary Rodham Clinton. In President Nixon's first term, Pat traveled to 39 of 50 states, and in the first year alone, shook hands with a quarter of a million people. [O'Brien, C.; Suteski, M. (2005), p. 239] She undertook many missions of goodwill to foreign nations as well. Her first foreign trip took in Guam, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, Romania, and England.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 171] On such trips, Pat refused to be serviced by an entourage, feeling that they were an unnecessary barrier and a burden for taxpayers. Soon after, during a trip to South Vietnam, Pat became the first First Lady to enter a combat zone. She had tea with the wife of President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu in a palace, visited an orphanage, and lifted off in an open-door helicopter—armed by military guards with machine guns—to witness U.S. troops fighting in a jungle below. She would later admit to experiencing a "moment of fear going into a battle zone", because, as author and historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony noted, "Pat Nixon was literally in a line of fire." She later visited an army hospital, where, for two hours, she walked through the wards and spoke with each wounded patient.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 172] The First Lady of South Vietnam, Madame Thieu, said Pat Nixon's trip "intensified our morale".

After hearing in 1970 about an earthquake causing an avalanche and additional destruction in Peru, Pat initiated a "volunteer American relief drive" and flew to the country, where she aided in taking relief supplies to earthquake victims. [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 185] She toured damaged regions and embraced homeless townspeople; they trailed her as she climbed up hills of rubble and under fallen beams. [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 186] Her trip was heralded in newspapers around the world for her acts of compassion and disregard for her personal safety or comfort, and her presence was a direct boost to political relations. One Peruvian official commented: "Her coming here meant more than anything else President Nixon could have done," and an editorial in Peru's "Lima Prensa" said that Peruvians could never forget Pat Nixon.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 187] Fran Lewine of the Associated Press wrote that no First Lady had ever undertaken a "mercy mission" resulting in such "diplomatic side effects". On the trip, the Peruvian government presented her with the Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun, the highest Peruvian distinction and the oldest such honor in the Americas.

She became the first First Lady to visit Africa in 1972, on a convert|10000|mi|km|0|adj=on, eight-day journey to Ghana, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 196] Upon arrival to Liberia, Pat was honored with a 19-gun salute, a tribute reserved only for heads of government, and she reviewed troops. She later donned a traditional native costume and danced with locals. She was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Most Venerable Order of Knighthood, Liberia's highest honor. In Ghana, she again danced with local residents, and addressed the nation's congress. At the Ivory Coast, she was met by a quarter of a million people shouting "Vive Madame Nixon!" She conferred with leaders of all three African nations. Upon her return home, White House staffer Charles Colson sent a memo to the President reading in part, "Mrs. Nixon has now broken through where we have failed ... People—men and women—identify with her, and in return with you."Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 197]

Another notable journey was the Nixon's historic visit to the People's Republic of China in 1972. While President Nixon was in meetings, Pat toured through Peking in her red coat. According to Carl Sferrazza Anthony, China was Pat Nixon's "moment", her turning point as an acclaimed First Lady in the United States.Anthony, C. S. (1991), pp. 199–200] She accompanied her husband to the Nixon-Brezhnev summit meetings in the Soviet Union later in the year. Though security constraints left her unable to walk freely through the streets as she did in China, Pat was still able to visit with children and walk arm-in-arm with Soviet First Lady Victoria Brezhnev. Later, she visited Brazil and Venezuela in 1974 with the unique diplomatic standing of personal representative of the president. The Nixons' last major trip was in June 1974, to Austria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel, and Jordan.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 215]

Fashion and style

White House, 1970] The fashion press tends to take special interest in First Ladies. The traditional role of a First Lady as the nation's hostess puts her personal appearance and style under scrutiny, and the attention to Mrs. Nixon was lively. "Women's Wear Daily" stated that Pat had a "good figure and good posture", as well as "the best-looking legs of any woman in public life today". [cite news|url=,9171,900581,00.html|title=Redoing Pat|accessdate=2008-07-25|work=Time|date=January 24, 1969] Some fashion writers tended to have a lackluster opinion of her well tailored, but nondescript, American-made clothes. "I consider it my duty to use American designers", she said, [cite news|author=Weinman, Martha|title=First Ladies—In Fashion, Too?|work=The New York Times|date=September 11, 1960] and favored them because, "they are now using so many materials which are great for traveling because they're non crushable". [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 192] She preferred to buy readymade garments rather than made-to-order outfits. "I'm a size 10," she told "The New York Times". "I can just walk in and buy. I've bought things in various stores in various cities. Only some of my clothes are by designers." She did, however, wear the custom work of some well-known talents, notably Geoffrey Beene, at the suggestion of Clara Treyz, her personal shopper. Many fashion observers concluded that Pat Nixon did not greatly advance the cause of American fashion. Nixon's yellow-satin inaugural gown by Harvey Berin was criticized as "a schoolteacher on her night out", but Treyz defended her wardrobe selections by saying, "Mrs. Nixon must be ladylike." [cite news|title=Pat's Wardrobe Mistress|work=Time|date=January 12, 1970|accessdate=2007-11-09|url=,9171,942153-2,00.html] [Nixon also frequently wore wigs that replicated her short blonde hairstyle, especially on political trips when access to a hairdresser would be difficult. cite news|author=Curtis, Charlotte|title=Pat Nixon: 'Creature Comforts Don't Matter'|work=The New York Times|date=July 3, 1968|accessdate=2007-11-09]

Pat did not sport the outrageous fashions of the 1970s, because she was concerned about appearing conservatively dressed, especially as her husband's political star rose. "Always before, it was sort of fun to get some ... thing that was completely different, high-style", she told a reporter. "But this is not appropriate now. I avoid the spectacular." [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), p. 187]


At the time the Watergate scandal broke to the media, Pat "barely noticed" the reports of a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 201] Later, when asked by the press about Watergate, she replied curtly, "I know only what I read in the newspapers."Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 203] In 1974, when a reporter asked "Is the press the cause of the president's problems?", Pat shot back, "What problems?" [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 210] Privately, Pat felt that the power within her husband's staff was increasing, so he was becoming more removed.

Pat Nixon did not know of the secret tape recordings her husband had made. Julie Nixon Eisenhower stated that the First Lady would have ordered the tapes destroyed immediately, had she known of their existence. [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), pp. 409–410] Once she did learn of the tapes, she vigorously opposed making them public, and compared them to "private love letters—for one person alone". [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 214] Believing in her husband's innocence, she also encouraged him not to resign and instead fight all the impeachment charges that were eventually leveled against him. She said to her friend Helene Drown, "Dick has done so much for the country. Why is this happening?" [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 215]

After President Nixon told his family he would resign the office of the presidency, Mrs. Nixon replied, "But why?" [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 216] She contacted White House curator Clement Conger to cancel any further development of a new official china pattern from the Lenox China Company, and began supervising the packing of the family's personal belongings. [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), pp. 417–419] On August 7, 1974, the family met in the solarium of the White House for their last dinner. Pat sat on the edge of a couch and held her chin high, a sign of tension to her husband.Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 217] When the president walked in, she threw her arms around him, kissed him, and said, "We're all very proud of you, Daddy." Later Pat Nixon said of the photographs taken that evening, "Our hearts were breaking and there we are smiling." [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), p. 424]

The next morning, a televised 20-minute farewell speech to the White House staff took place in the East Room, during which the President read from Theodore Roosevelt's biography and praised his own parents. [cite web |url=|title= Richard M. Nixon: White House Farewell|accessdate= 2007-09-23|publisher=The History Place] The First Lady could hardly contain her tears; she was most upset about the cameras, because they recorded her anguish, as they had during the 1960 election defeat. The Nixons walked onto the Executive Mansion's South Lawn with Vice President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford to "Marine One". As they walked, Pat, with one arm around her husband's waist and one around Betty's, said to Betty, "You'll see many of these red carpets, and you'll get so you hate 'em." [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 218] The helicopter carried them to Andrews Air Force Base; from there they flew to California. [cite news|publisher=CNN|url=|title=Nixon's resignation changed American politics forever|date=August 9, 1999|accessdate=2008-08-18]

Pat Nixon later told her daughter Julie, "Watergate is the only crisis that ever got me down ... And I know I will never live to see the vindication." [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), p. 453]

Public perception

Author Carl Sferrazza Anthony noted that ordinary citizens responded to Pat. When a group of rural people visited the White House to present a quilt to the First Lady, many were overcome with nervousness; upon hearing their weeping, Pat hugged each individual tightly, and the tension dissipated. When a young boy doubted that the Executive Mansion was her house because he could not see the washing machine, Pat led him through the halls and up an elevator, into the family quarters and the laundry room. She mixed well with different races, and made no racial distinction between anyone. During the Nixons' trip to China in 1972, foreign minister Zhou En-lai became so smitten with her that he gave two rare giant pandas to the ambassador as a gift from China.

According to "Time" magazine, "She was such the perfect wife and mother—pressing [her husband's] pants, making dresses for daughters Tricia and Julie, doing her own housework even as the Vice President's wife—that she was tagged 'Plastic Pat.'" [cite news|title=The Woman in the Cloth Coat|author=Angelo, Bonnie|accessdate=2008-08-22|date=July 5, 1993|url=,9171,978822,00.html|work=Time] The derogatory nickname was applied to her because, according to critics, she was always smiling while her face rarely expressed emotion [cite web|url=|title=Thelma Nixon|accessdate=2008-07-25|publisher=Miller Center of Public Affairs|year=2008] [cite web|url=|title=Secrets will be shared in one-woman show, Lady Bird, Pat & Betty: Tea for Three at Toland theatre|author=Schmitz, Justin|publisher=University of Wisconsin|accessdate=2008-07-25|date=March 12, 2008] and her body language made her seem reserved, and at times, artificial. [cite web|url=|title=Between You and Me|author=Wallace, Mike|accessdate=2008-08-22|publisher=WNYC Radio|year=2005] Some observers described Pat Nixon as "a paper doll, a Barbie doll—plastic, antiseptic, unalive" and that she "has put every bit of the energy and drive of her youth into playing a role, and she may no longer recognize it as such". As for the criticisms, she said, "I am who I am and I will continue to be."

To many, Pat was seen as an example of the "American Dream", with her greatest popularity being with the "great silent majority" of voters. Mary Brooks, the director of the United States Mint, described the First Lady as "a good example to the women of this country", but despite her largely demure public persona as a traditional wife and homemaker, Pat was not as self-effacing and timid as her critics often claimed. When a news photographer wanted her to strike yet another pose while wearing an apron, she firmly responded, "I think we've had enough of this kitchen thing, don't you?" [cite news|author=Toner, Robin|title=Running Mates|work=The New York Times|date=February 2, 1997|accessdate=2007-11-09] Columnist Robert Thompson commented that Pat was an ideal balance for the 1970s, writing that she proved that "women can play a vital role in world affairs" while still retaining a "feminine manner". But others who opposed the Vietnam War identified her with the Nixon administration's policies, and, as a result, occasionally picketed her speaking events. After she had spoken to some of them, one student told the press that "she wanted to listen. I felt like this is a woman who really cares about what we are doing. I was surprised." [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 182] It was the view of veteran UPI reporter Helen Thomas that Pat "was the warmest First Lady I covered and the one who loved people the most. I think newspeople who covered her saw a woman who was sharp, responsive, sensitive." [Anthony, C. S. (1991), p. 167]

Later life

After returning to San Clemente, California in 1974 and settling into the Nixons' home, "La Casa Pacifica", Mrs. Nixon rarely appeared in public and only granted occasional interviews to the press. In late May 1975, Pat went to her girlhood town of Artesia, California (present-day Cerritos) to dedicate the Patricia Nixon Elementary School.Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), p. 441] In her remarks, she said, "I'm proud to have the school carry my name. I always thought that only those who have gone had schools named after them. I am happy to tell you that I'm not gone—I mean, not really gone." It was Pat's only solo public appearance in five and a half years in California.

Pat suffered a stroke on July 7, 1976 at "La Casa Pacifica", which resulted in the paralysis of her entire left side. Physical therapy enabled her to eventually regain all movement. She said that her recovery was "the hardest thing I have ever done physically". [Eisenhower, Julie (1986), p. 451] In 1979, she and her husband moved to a townhouse on East 65th Street in Manhattan, New York City.cite news|url=,%20Richard%20Milhous|title=Final Days for a Moldy Nixon Retreat|accessdate=2008-08-02|date=May 6, 2007|author=Coyne, Kevin|work=The New York Times] They lived there only briefly and in 1981 moved to a convert|6000|sqft|m2|0 house in Saddle River, New Jersey. This gave the couple additional space, and enabled them to be near their children and grandchildren. Pat, however, sustained another stroke in 1983 [Eisenhower, Julie Nixon (1986), p. 458] and two lung infections the following year. [cite news|url=|title=Pat Nixon Is Hospitalized|work=Associated Press|publisher="The New York Times"|accessdate=2008-08-17|date=November 6, 1984]

Appearing "frail and slightly bent", [cite news|url=|author=Apple, R. W. Jr.|title=Another Nixon Summit, At His Library|work=The New York Times|date=July 20, 1990|accessdate=2007-11-09] she appeared in public for the opening of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace (now Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum) in Yorba Linda, California on July 19, 1990. The dedication ceremony included 50,000 friends and well-wishers, as well as former President and Mrs. Ford, former President and Mrs. Reagan, and President and Mrs. Bush. [cite web|url=|publisher=Richard Nixon Library Foundation|accessdate=2008-07-23|title=Museum Tour: The Museum] The library includes a Pat Nixon room as well as rose gardens planted with the red-black Pat Nixon Rose developed by a French company in 1972, when she was first lady. [cite news|url=|title=Patricia Nixon, Wife of Former President, Dies at 81|accessdate=2008-08-25|date=June 23, 1993|work=The Los Angeles Times|publisher=The Tech|volume=113|issue=29] Pat also attended the opening of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, in November 1991. Former First Lady Barbara Bush reflected, "I loved Pat Nixon, who was a sensational, gracious, and thoughtful First Lady", [Bush, Barbara (1994), p. 97] but at the dedication of the Reagan Library, Bush remembered, "There was one sad thing. Pat Nixon did not look well at all. Through her smile you could see that she was in great pain and having a terrible time getting air into her lungs." [ Bush, Barbara (1994), p. 441]

The Nixons moved to a gated complex in Park Ridge, New Jersey in 1991. Pat's health was failing, and the house was smaller and contained an elevator. Her health problems developed into bouts of oral cancer, [cite news|title=Pat Nixon Released From Hospital|work=The New York Times|date=February 13, 1987|accessdate=2007-11-09|url=] emphysema, and ultimately lung cancer, with which she was diagnosed in December 1992, while hospitalized with respiratory problems.

Death and funeral

Pat Nixon died at her New Jersey home at 5:45 am on June 22, 1993, the day after her 53rd wedding anniversary. She was 81. Her daughters and husband were by her side.

The funeral service for Mrs. Nixon took place in the grounds of the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California on June 26, 1993. Speakers at the ceremony, including California Governor Pete Wilson, Kansas senator Bob Dole, and the Reverend Dr. Billy Graham, eulogized the former First Lady. In addition to her husband and immediate family, former presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford and their wives, Nancy and Betty, were also in attendance.cite web |url=|title=Funeral Services of Mrs. Nixon|accessdate= 2007-10-02|year= 2005|publisher= Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation] Lady Bird Johnson was unable to attend because she was in the hospital recovering from a stroke, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis did not attend either, also due to health reasons.

Mrs. Nixon's tombstone gives her name as "Patricia Nixon", the name by which she was popularly known. Former President Nixon survived her by 10 months, dying on April 22, 1994. [cite news|url=|title=Richard M. Nixon, 37th President, Dies|work=The Washington Post|accessdate=2008-08-02|author=Weil, Martin; Randolph, Eleanor |date=April 23, 1994] Her epitaph reads: cquote|Even when people can't speak your language, they can tell if you have love in your heart.

In 1994, the Pat Nixon Park was established in Cerritos, California. The site where her girlhood home stood is on the property. The Cerritos City Council voted in April 1996 to erect a statue of the former First Lady, one of the few statues created in the image of a first lady. [cite web|url=|title=Pat Nixon Statue at the Cerritos Senior Center|year=2000|publisher=City of Cerritos|accessdate=2008-08-02]



*cite book|author=Anthony, Carl Sferrazza|title=First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents' Wives and Their Power; 1961-1990 (Volume II)|year=1991|publisher=William Morrow and Co|location=New York
*cite book|author=Bush, Barbara|title=A Memoir|year=1994|location=New York|publisher=Scribner
*cite book |last= David|first=Lester|title= The Lonely Lady of San Clemente: The Story of Pat Nixon|accessdate= 2008-08-18|year=1978|publisher=Crowell|isbn=0690016883
*cite book |last= Eisenhower|first= Julie Nixon|authorlink= Julie Nixon Eisenhower|title= Pat Nixon: The Untold Story|accessdate= 2007-09-24|year= 1986|publisher= Simon & Schuster|location= New York|isbn=0671244248
*cite book |last= Marton|first= Kati|authorlink= Kati Marton|title= Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History|accessdate=2007-11-09|year= 2001|publisher= Pantheon|location= New York|isbn=0375401067
*cite book |last= Montgomery|first= Helen M|title= Partners-in-Crisis: the Untold Story of Pat and Richard Nixon: People of Courage|accessdate=2008-08-21|year= 2003|publisher= Xlibris Corporation|isbn=1413404316
*cite book |last= O'Brien|first= Cormac|title= Secret Lives of the First Ladies: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the Women of the White House|accessdate= 2008-08-18|year= 2005|publisher=Quirk Books|isbn=1594740143|coauthors=Suteski, Monika
*cite book |last= Truman|first= Margaret|title= First Ladies|accessdate= 2008-08-20|year=1999|publisher=Random House|isbn=0679434399|location=New York

External links

* [ White House biography on Pat Nixon]
* [ Nixon Foundation biography on Pat Nixon]
* [ Funeral services of Pat Nixon]

NAME=Nixon, Pat
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Nixon, Thelma Catherine Ryan "Pat"; nee Thelma Catherine Ryan
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Wife of Richard Nixon
DATE OF BIRTH=March 6, 1912
DATE OF DEATH=June 22, 1993
PLACE OF DEATH=Park Ridge, New Jersey

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