Patricia Hitt, 87; Served Under Nixon, Worked on His Campaigns:

By Jon Thurber, Times Staff Writer

Patricia Reilly Hitt, who as an assistant secretary of Health, Education and Welfare was the highest-ranking woman in President Nixon’s first administration, has died. She was 87.

Hitt died of natural causes Monday at her Balboa Island home, according to the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace.

The announcement noted that she had died on what would have been the late president’s 93rd birthday.

A longtime supporter of Nixon’s, Hitt served as national co-chair of his 1968 presidential campaign with vice presidential nominee Spiro T. Agnew. She was the first woman to hold that senior post in either party.

A third-generation Californian, Hitt was born in Taft but moved to Whittier at age 3. Her parents, Vera and John B. Reilly, were members of the original committee that urged Nixon to run for Congress.

Hitt graduated from USC with a degree in education. She was freshman class queen and vice president of the student body of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

She worked on Nixon’s first congressional race, in 1946, campaigning door to door in the Alhambra-San Marino area near her South Pasadena home.

Hitt also worked for his reelection in 1948 and joined his senatorial campaign in 1950. Eventually, she participated in every one of Nixon’s campaigns as he ran for vice president, governor and president.

In 1960, she was elected Republican national committeewoman from California. She gave the opening address at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in 1964.

Hitt also lent her campaign know-how to other GOP candidates, as well serving as state co-chair in charge of women’s activities in George Murphy’s run for U.S. Senate in 1964. She was state co-chair for Robert Finch in his race for lieutenant governor in 1966. And she served as an advisor to Pete Wilson in his campaigns for U.S. Senate and governor of California.

“She was a multi-tasker of extraordinary capability and was someone you could absolutely rely on,” Wilson said Thursday in a statement. “She never failed to follow through and accomplish whatever she had committed to do.”

In January 1969, Nixon named her to the post of assistant secretary of Health, Education and Welfare with responsibility for community and field services. She coordinated programs in 10 regional offices throughout the country and the office of the HEW secretary.

Homesick for California, she left the post in 1973 and returned to her longtime home of Orange County. Despite the trauma of Watergate, she remained a firm Nixon supporter.

The day he returned to San Clemente after resigning in 1974, Hitt met his plane at what was then the El Toro Marine Air Station. She went because she was sure no one else would. But thousands of supporters had turned out, and she couldn’t get near him.

“I stood with tears streaming down my face,” she told a Times reporter some years ago. “A lot of people still believed in him.”

Hitt served as one of the original trustees of the Richard Nixon Foundation, the organization formed to create Nixon’s presidential library in Yorba Linda.

She is survived by two sons, Rick and John Hamilton, from her first marriage, to Frank Hamilton, which ended in divorce. She married Robert J. Hitt in 1947; he died in 1994.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 26 at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd, Yorba Linda.