Service Honors Pat Nixon's Quiet Strength


In the shadow of her husband's boyhood home, former First Lady Patricia Ryan Nixon was remembered Saturday by relatives and friends as a woman whose uncommon emotional strength and enduring devotion will mark her place in history.

The hour-long morning funeral service, set on the grassy outdoor amphitheater of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, brought together an extended political family that included former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan.

"This is a time for tears, but also a time of smiles and happiness in our hearts," the Rev. Billy Graham said as he opened the service under ashen clouds.

Graham, a close Nixon family friend and confidant, joined Gov. Pete Wilson, Sen. Bob Dole and family friends in eulogies emphasizing Mrs. Nixon's tenderness at home and on the many campaign trails of the "Dick and Pat partnership."

The 372 invited guests sat in silence on white lawn chairs facing the library's reflection pool. They included family, colleagues and opponents who ran against Nixon. Among them was former Sen. George S. McGovern, whom Nixon defeated for the presidency in 1972.

Figures from the Watergate era and the Nixon Administration included Maurice Stans, Charles Colson, Rosemary Woods, H.R. (Bob) Haldeman, Ron Ziegler and Alexander Haig.

Just outside the library grounds, an estimated 200 others gathered on the parking lot to hear the funeral service broadcast from loudspeakers. The onlookers, many of whom were among the 5,000 to attend a public viewing Friday evening, broke into soft applause as luminaries--among them Bob Hope and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger--arrived by limousine.

Many of the guests took their places more than an hour before the 10 a.m. start, when Graham led former President Nixon and the immediate family to their seats near the former First Lady's rose garden. After seeing the crowd, Nixon drew a handkerchief over his mouth and began to sob.

The audience then stood quietly as six U.S. Marine honor guards carried Mrs. Nixon's mahogany casket to a white canopy, where a pedestal was decorated with flower arrangements. In the background, the Master Chorale of Orange County performed "My Country 'tis of Thee."

Graham and four eulogists took turns at a podium to praise Mrs. Nixon, who died Tuesday of lung cancer at age 81. The speakers referred to the personal hardships Mrs. Nixon endured in childhood and as wife of a political figure who knew triumph and profound tragedy.

"Few women in public life have suffered as she has suffered and done it with such grace," Graham said. "In all the years I knew her, I never heard her say anything unkind about anyone."

Cynthia Hardin Milligan, close family friend and daughter of President Nixon's Agriculture Secretary Clifford Hardin, said the former First Lady's appetite for adventure helped carry her through difficult times.

"It was that sense of adventure which led her to become half of the Dick and Pat partnership that began in California 53 years ago and brought them to heights of fame, power, turmoil, frustration and peace that few have experienced."

Milligan also spoke of "a woman of substance," who exuded warmth in her family life, where she spent hours playing with her grandchildren. Mrs. Nixon, Milligan said, was a perfect fit for the code name given to her by the Secret Service: "Starlight."

"I came to know and appreciate Mrs. Nixon in her roles as mother, grandmother, wife and friend," she said. "She always created an atmosphere of love and beauty in every Nixon home, including the White House."

Milligan's tribute was preceded by a eulogy from retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James D. (Don) Hughes, who served as a Nixon military aide and accompanied Mrs. Nixon in Venezuela in 1958, when Nixon was vice president and their cars were attacked by anti-American rioters.

During that trip, Hughes told the audience, he was bowled over at Mrs. Nixon's display of courage. He said she was met by an angry mob that had been "whipped into a frenzy," roaring insults and spitting on the motorcade.

"Throughout the ride, I never saw her flinch when the car was hit with various missiles and clubs," Hughes said. "She remained totally composed and that alone made it easier for me and the Secret Service. . . . We left Caracas the next day through a tear gas mist . . . but we left in the Nixon style, with heads up and all flags flying."

Wilson said that as a young Nixon political advance man in 1962, he was introduced to a woman whose fragile physical appearance belied an inner strength that radiated composure on the campaign trail, where Nixon waged an unsuccessful challenge to unseat Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown.

"Pat Nixon was a far bigger draw than the incumbent governor they were running against," Wilson said. "Thousands lined up waiting for her. Children everywhere were drawn to her, whether it was in Africa, California or Moscow. She radiated dignity, quiet strength and wholesome charm."

Wilson said the demands of Mrs. Nixon's personal life, in which she nursed her parents through final illnesses and worked as a telephone operator and Hollywood extra to fund her education, prepared her for the rigors of public life.

"But in that fragile body," the governor said, "beat a great Irish fighting heart."

Many common themes connected the words of each eulogist, but it was Dole, the nation's highest-ranking Republican, who spoke of Mrs. Nixon as one who "never forgot where she came from."

"Washington, D.C., is a town where the monuments are tall, and the egos even taller," Dole said. "Every once in a while, however, there comes along a rare spirit like Pat who dispels the cynicism and reminds us that compassion need not be legislated, it need only be . . . expressed by hugging a child, comforting a victim of a natural disaster or just personally answering a letter from one of the countless real people who turn to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when all other avenues seem closed."

At some Washington events, Dole said Mrs. Nixon would stand in receiving lines for hours, knowing that for some it would be their only White House evening.

"As a friend of hers told me this week: 'Pat Nixon treated everyone like a head of state,' " the senator from Kansas said. "In an age saturated with the false values of celebrity, Pat Nixon was as genuine as those signatures she insisted on signing on her letters."

After the ceremony, Nixon and his family gathered in the library's lobby with those who attended the memorial. The former President called his political friends forward and thanked all of them.

As they stood near him, Nixon began to talk of the strong-willed woman who had stood by him and assuaged his fears.

One time was during his 1952 vice presidential campaign, before making the "Checkers speech," in which Nixon defended himself on national TV after his acceptance of an $18,000 fund for political expenses.

Just before going on the air, he said he turned to Pat. "I don't know how I can get through this," Nixon said he told his wife.

She responded firmly: "Yes you will."

Twenty-two years later, just two months after he resigned the presidency, Nixon was admitted to Long Beach Memorial Hospital for treatment of a serious case of phlebitis, which nearly took his life. At one point, after being in shock for several days, he opened his eyes and saw Pat.

"Honey, I may not make it," he said to his wife.

She responded the same way as she had in 1952: "Yes you will."

Nixon's remembrances touched the crowd.

"It was very, very beautiful and all about Pat," said Rep. Robert K. Dornan. "She was just a great lady."

Nixon insisted on shaking hands with everyone and soon, a long receiving line formed. One of the first to leave the reception was comedian Hope and his wife, Delores, followed by actor Buddy Ebsen and his wife.

The Reagans and Fords left through the basement and 80 minutes after the reception began, the Nixon family walked to the burial site, where Graham conducted a short service and said a prayer before the interment.

A stone marker notes the spot where Mrs. Nixon is buried. It reads: "Patricia Ryan Nixon: 1912-1993."

Visitors will be able to see the grave site beginning today at 11 a.m., when the library reopens. Admission is free through Tuesday.

Times staff writer Lily Dizon contributed to this report.

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