YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Service Honors Pat Nixon's Quiet Strength


YORBA LINDA — 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."

Los Angeles Times Articles