Perhaps because she gracefully suggested a standard of loyalty not so much in fashion today, even many Americans of her generation who disliked her husband admired her. For in the role of First Lady, Pat Nixon endured both triumph and despair in the roller-coaster political career that was her husband's destiny.
She was surely the least conspicuous of modern First Ladies. She was no Eleanor Roosevelt or Betty Ford or Hillary Clinton or Rosalynn Carter. By present standards this cloth-coated First Lady might be seen as too self-effacing by half. Indeed, with all that the women's movement has rightly taught us, and with all the forces of social change sweeping America, it is almost impossible to imagine another First Lady--or for that matter a First Gentleman--of her low profile.
On Tuesday she died of lung cancer at 81 at the family home in Park Ridge, N.J. She died surrounded by her immediate family--her daughters, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, and her husband, Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th President.
In the end, perhaps she was the archetype of a transitional First Lady, often seemingly unhappy but perceiving herself bound not only by the times but by her personality and her husband's politics and policies. The section in the Nixon Library that deals with her emphasizes the support she gave her husband throughout his career. The library--in Yorba Linda, not far from where they first met--was built in part to help Nixon redeem his reputation. It is appropriate that Patricia Ryan Nixon's memorial service will be held there.