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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : A Splendid Evening : Nixon Supporters Gather at the Presidential Library to Celebrate His Birthday and Dedicate Yorba Linda’s State Historic Landmark

The first observance of a President’s birthday after his death is a momentous and emotional occasion, John Taylor said on Monday at a luncheon held at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda.

“So with the help of the state of California, we tried to make today a forward-looking occasion,” said Taylor, the library’s executive director.

Library festivities on what would have been Nixon’s 82nd birthday Monday included a lecture by Taylor on “The Splendid Evening” of the late President and the dedication of his birthplace as a state historic landmark.

“Today’s dedication is an indication that the state recognizes that one of the most important geopolitical events to occur in this century was Nixon’s birth, right here in Yorba Linda,” Taylor said.

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Befitting the occasion, local Nixon supporters, who included Dorothy and Donald Bendetti, Ginny and Peter Ueberroth, Gavin Herbert and Carl and Margaret Karcher, gathered with Nixon’s brother Ed Nixon and state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren in the library’s Presidential Reception Room to sip fine wine and dine on fare that Nixon liked--grilled Chilean sea bass, baby vegetables, cranberry sorbet and pecan cookies.

“The President preferred sea bass to salmon,” confided Dorothy Bendetti, who co-hosted the luncheon with her husband Donald Bendetti, a developer who serves as secretary of the library’s board of directors.

During the reception, Ed Nixon--who came from Seattle for the event--said his brother’s birthday celebrations “were always wonderful family affairs.”

But Monday’s events were more about what the birthplace means for future generations, Nixon noted. “Yes, it’s a historic landmark, but what does that represent?” he asked. “An opportunity for every kid in America to look at the very best in other people and be the best themselves, no matter what they do.”

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Other guests included Caroline Ahmanson, Buck Johns, Clara Jane Nixon, Mary Roosevelt, and Peter and Mary Muth.

*

Trump on tap: When Ivana Trump hops into the 350 Astar helicopter in Los Angeles that will ferry her to a speaking engagement in Orange County on Tuesday, she’ll find a single red rose on the seat.

And her pilot, philanthropist Mark Johnson of North Tustin, will have laid it there.

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Not a surprising touch for a man who smothered his Mediterranean-style digs with red roses for a recent charity gala.

Yes, Johnson is a detail man. And a romantic.

But most important on this day will be his concern for her safety. “I’ve flown for 23 years, and I try to be the world’s most conservative pilot,” he says.

Johnson got his license to fly fixed-wing aircraft in 1972. In the early ‘80s, he attended Hughes Aircraft Flight School to get his helicopter license.

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When he takes off from his heliport at Chapin Medical Co. in Corona--where he is president and CEO--he won’t be nervous about fetching Trump, he says. “I’ve flown long enough, and cautiously enough. Nobody in my helicopter wants to live more than I do.”

Johnson, whose donations to Orange County charities last year amounted to $2 million, is an underwriter of the “Women Who Dare” lecture and luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Irvine sponsored by the Big Canyon/Spyglass Hill Committee of the Orange County Philharmonic Society.

“I chose to support this event because the philharmonic raises funds for children’s music programs--something I strongly support,” he says, “and because Ivana Trump has taken her personal struggle and turned it into a triumph.”

Johnson regularly takes his helicopter out for a spin to keep it in perfect shape, he says. “I can fly from my office to Big Bear in 20 minutes,” he explains, “so I often go there, have a quick sandwich and a coffee and then fly back. It’s my way of keeping the aircraft lubricated, the batteries charged.”

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Otherwise, Johnson uses his whirlybird for social occasions--lunches and dinners at the restaurants of some of California’s most picturesque airports.

On Wednesday, Johnson was fretting about rain spoiling his plans to bring Trump to the John Wayne Airport. “If it’s as wet as it was Tuesday, no way ,” he says. “Some people might fly a helicopter in that weather, but I wouldn’t.”

In any case, Johnson will have a limousine on standby at Los Angeles International. “The backup plan is in place,” he says.

* Diva, for opera buffs: Members of Diva, a new support group for Opera Pacific, will stage their inaugural reception with opera soprano Anna Moffo on Saturday at Gustaf Anders restaurant at South Coast Plaza Village in Santa Ana.

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Moffo has done film versions of “La Traviata” and “Lucia Di Lammermoor,” as well as starred at the Met, La Scala and Covent Garden. She has also sung for five U.S. Presidents. Festivities will include a gourmet dinner. Marla Patterson is dinner chairwoman.


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