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Mary Livingston, 92; archivist revealed Nixon's backdated documents

March 27, 2007|Patricia Sullivan | Washington Post

Mary Walton McCandlish Livingston, a federal archivist whose testimony before Congress revealed that President Nixon's donated papers were improperly backdated, died March 23 in Alexandria, Va. She was 92 and had Alzheimer's disease.

Livingston, a senior archivist in the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives for 30 years, supervised work on Nixon's early papers. In March 1970, while working with a manuscript dealer chosen by Nixon, she selected 1,176 boxes of personal papers that the president intended to donate to the nation.

A change in federal tax law would have prevented Nixon from taking a deduction for the donation. But the dealer prepared an affidavit that said Nixon donated his vice presidential papers a year earlier than he actually did, which gave the president a $450,000 tax break.

Public indignation at Nixon's nonpayment of federal taxes led to a hearing before the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation. Livingston testified that the president could not have donated the papers in 1969 because the dealer asked her to select the papers a year later.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 30, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
Livingston obituary: The obituary of archivist Mary Livingston in Tuesday's California section stated that "in 1962, she returned to the National Archives to work on oral histories from the Johnson administration and to organize other presidential libraries." Although she did return to work at the archives in 1962, she did not work on Johnson's presidential archives at that time; Johnson didn't take office until 1963.

Reporter Mary McGrory's Page One column in the Washington Star-News dubbed Livingston "A Proper Civil Servant."

McGrory called her "a heroine ... a woman of conscience who cannot be stampeded ... by the mention of the White House."

The dealer aroused her suspicions from the start, Livingston told the committee, when he wanted her to keep their interaction from her supervisor. She promptly filed a memo to her boss.

Three years later, when a newspaper story mentioned Nixon's tax deductions, she wrote another memo, suggesting that investigators seek out the original deed of donation. Her testimony before Congress resulted in a 1974 ruling that the deduction was improper. She was also an important witness in the 1975 fraud trial of the manuscript dealer, who was convicted.

Livingston received an award from the Society of American Archivists for her "conscientious performance of duty."

The incident was but a snippet in the long life of Livingston, who served as "a moral compass" for her family, one daughter said. She was born in Fairfax, Va., in 1914, part of a family that had been in Virginia for generations.

Livingston graduated from Sweet Briar College and returned to Fairfax to work for the county's Chamber of Commerce.

She married in 1939 and left her National Archives job to raise her children and become active in community fundraising and civil rights work.

The Fairfax branch of the NAACP gave her a certificate in 1951 for her efforts on behalf of equal education for African American students. She worked on biracial church and PTA groups to keep the public schools operating during the period of "massive resistance" to court-ordered desegregation in the late 1950s.

In 1962, she returned to the National Archives to work on oral histories from the Johnson administration and to organize other presidential libraries. Later, she worked on authenticating the claims of Japanese internees after they were awarded reparations by the federal government in 1988.

Her husband, S. William Livingston, died in 1979.

Survivors include three children; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

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