A gala recalls diplomacy feats

Times Staff Writer

Hailed for his expertise in domestic and foreign policy, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz received the Richard M. Nixon Library’s Victory of Freedom Award during a black-tie gala on the 90th anniversary of the former president’s birth. “Tonight we honor an extraordinary diplomat and policymaker who worked on both a national and global canvas,” library executive director John H. Taylor told guests at the dinner, held Thursday in the Yorba Linda facility’s flag-draped entrance hall. The 82-year-old Shultz, who lives in Palo Alto, served as secretary of labor and secretary of the treasury under Nixon and secretary of state under President Reagan. “George Shultz is above all a peacemaker,” President George W. Bush said in a videotaped message. After being introduced by former California Gov. Pete Wilson, Shultz praised his good friend while panning the state’s economic woes: “He left California prosperous, with a budget surplus -- remember those days?”

The library had planned to welcome both of Nixon’s daughters, Tricia Cox and Julie Eisenhower, to the gala, which also featured the unveiling of a new exhibit commemorating Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Their attendance would have marked their first appearance at the facility since settling their six-year dispute last August over its operations -- Cox wanting the Nixon family to make the major decisions, Eisenhower seeking greater power for the professional staff. But Cox, who had the flu, remained in New York, sending her 23-year-old son, law student Christopher Cox, to represent her, and leaving Eisenhower to raise a daughterly birthday toast to their father, who died in 1994. “Everything is good between us. We had a disagreement, but we resolved it and everything is fine,” said Eisenhower, who paired her coral cocktail suit with backless, see-through shoes. “I saw Tricia last month in Philadelphia. I’m sorry she couldn’t come tonight.”

Guests, who included Nixon’s brother Ed Nixon, Leonore Annenberg (widow of publishing magnate Walter Annenberg), library board chairman Donald Bendetti and heiress Joan Irvine Smith (“I’m a Democrat, but I’m here!”), toured the new exhibit before dining on a re-creation of a state dinner enjoyed by Shultz at the White House: artichoke soup with almond bow ties, porcini veal chop and a chocolate-mousse-stuffed fortune cookie embellished with candy chopsticks. Exhibit items range from the red wool coat and sable scarf Pat Nixon wore at the Great Wall to the silver-framed photograph of Nixon presented to Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Annenberg asked why the tarnished frame hadn’t been shined up for the exhibit, which made its debut last November in Beijing. “The Chinese didn’t want to polish it because it has Mao’s fingerprints on it,” a curator said.