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Funeral at Nixon Library Leaves Debate in Its Wake

Some say such use should be limited to the late president's family members and friends. Staff says it doesn't solicit the events.

March 12, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, the only privately funded presidential library in the nation, routinely hosts weddings, fund-raisers and corporate dinners to help make ends meet.

On Friday -- for the first time in its 13-year history -- the library's auditorium was rented out for a funeral.

Library spokesman Sandy Quinn said the library does not actively seek to host funerals but does not have a policy prohibiting them. Library officials agreed to the closed-casket event, which drew 300 guests, only after the family made a special request.

The family of Dr. Samuel R. Kaidi of Orange "wanted to do it here, and we thought that if it was important to them rather than deny them, we said, 'Sure,' " Quinn said.

The family paid a standard rental fee.

One member of the library foundation's board of directors was shocked when told of the event.

"Are you kidding?" said board member Ken Khachigian of San Clemente, a Nixon confidant and speechwriter.

"We have in the past allowed there to be weddings and other special events that have all celebrated life in one way or another," he said, "but we probably ought to draw the line at offering a presidential library for funerals for people who are not part of the extended Nixon family."

Other board members couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday. Khachigian said he will ask the board to reconsider allowing funerals at the library.

Criticism also came from Orange County attorney Thomas Malcolm, who represented Nixon's daughter Tricia Cox in lawsuits last year over the handling of a $19-million bequest to the Nixon library from longtime family friend Charles "Bebe" Rebozo. The lawsuits were settled.

"My main theory is they want to make [the library] into Graceland," Malcolm said.

The library is the only presidential library that doesn't house the official presidential papers of its namesake. The other 10 libraries are part of the national archive system, receive federal funding and have federal archivists maintaining the presidential papers.

Quinn said the funeral was considered an appropriate use of the Nixon library.

There have been eight funerals held there for Nixon family members and friends. The funeral on Friday was the first outside rental.

The 37th president, who died in 1994, and former First Lady Pat Nixon are buried on the grounds.

Quinn said Kaidi's family approached library officials a week ago about renting the auditorium.

The emergency room physician, 40, died March 2 after being detained by security officials at a Kmart in Atascadero because of a shoplifting allegation. A short time later he was hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery after his spleen ruptured.

Police are investigating the circumstances of his death.

Family members couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment.

The Nixon library relies on rental income -- including weddings, anniversaries and bar mitzvahs -- to fund its activities.

Last month, officials held a groundbreaking for a $12-million expansion that, when finished next year, will include a replica of the White House East Room.

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