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Pat Nixon Burial at Library Required State Exemption

July 02, 1993|MARK PLATTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YORBA LINDA — As general manager of the Orange County Cemetery District, Sam Randall had a nagging question when he read about the memorial services for former First Lady Pat Nixon: How could she have been buried on private property that was not part of a cemetery or church?

Normally, one would be interred in a state-licensed private cemetery or one of four public burial sites in Orange County. If a church had a cemetery, then that, too, would suffice. Or a special exemption could be sought from Sacramento, which could take weeks.

But with very little time in the weeks before Mrs. Nixon's death on June 22 and her burial four days later on the grounds of the Nixon Library & Birthplace, another option was pursued: deeding the burial plot to a church.

In this case, library officials approached the Yorba Linda Friends Church, the oldest Quaker congregation in Orange County. President Nixon's parents, Frank and Hannah, were founding members and Richard attended the church as a boy.

"We have had a special relationship with the Nixons," said Executive Pastor Sab Takahashi. "We were very pleased to be involved."

Library director John H. Taylor had known several weeks before Mrs. Nixon's death of her family's wish that she be buried on the library grounds.

After contacting the state Department of Consumer Affairs, Taylor realized he had two choices: apply for a permit through the state, which was too lengthy a process and might cause the family embarrassment if the public application was discovered before Mrs. Nixon's death; or get the 20-by-20-foot plot deeded to a church organization.

The elders of the 81-year-old church enthusiastically approved the plan.

"The entire church community rallied around in a heartfelt gesture of love for the Nixon family," Taylor said. "We were pleased and delighted and touched and moved by the outpouring of affection."

On June 25, the day before the burial, the state granted the exemption and land dedication.

Mrs. Nixon was laid to rest in an area next to her rose garden after an emotional 60-minute service conducted by the Rev. Billy Graham. Richard Nixon sobbed, sometimes uncontrollably, during the ceremony.

The burial was the second in the past two months in which private property was deeded to a church to permit interment. United Farm Workers union leader Cesar Chavez was buried on a piece of land in Delano deeded to a Catholic church, said Anita Scuri, an attorney for the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Sam Randall, the Orange County Cemetery District's general manager, said he could not remember another such burial here. The cemetery district oversees four public burial sites in Lake Forest, Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana.

"This is one of the few examples of someone being buried in this county where it wasn't done in a traditional cemetery," he said.

State law restricts burials on grounds that are not part of a cemetery or church. Even cremated remains cannot be scattered just anywhere; only the ocean or in an authorized area, called a "scatter garden," within a cemetery.

"The days of having your ashes dropped over the mountains or a field are over," Randall said.

Nixon library officials were particularly pleased to have the Yorba Linda Friends Church involved, Taylor said, because drawing in the house of worship made yet "another link to the Nixon family."

Taylor said he is still not sure what the former President's plans are for his own burial.

"Our assumption is that the President and Mrs. Nixon will rest side by side," Taylor said. "I have not discussed that with Mr. Nixon, however. His entire focus has been on Mrs. Nixon."

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