John Taylor has already noted Pat Nixon’s birthday yesterday (16 March), and its celebration at the Library. It came to be traditionally celebrated the next day and the story was told that after her birth late on the 16th, her father exclaimed, “She’ll be St. Patrick’s babe in the morning.”
Perhaps my two favorite passages in the President’s memoirs, RN, both involve Mrs. Nixon. One is ineffably sad —the final page of the book as they leave the White House aboard Marine One (which is now at the Nixon Library)— and one is joyously happy.In it, RN describes the White House celebration (masterminded by Len Garment) of Duke Ellington’s seventieth birthday. Here it is:
Except for the POW dinner in 1973, which was a unique historical event, I think that the most memorable of all our White house social occasions was Duke Ellington’s seventieth birthday on April 29, 1969, when I presented him with the country’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. We invited more than 200 guests, including Cab Calloway, Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine, Mahalia Jackson, Harold Arlen and Richard Rodgers. In making the presentation, I said, “In the royalty of American music, no man swings more or stands higher than the Duke.”
I braved the piano accompaniment to ‘Happy Birthday’ and when the formal program was over, and some of the greatest jazz musicians had performed some of his greatest songs, I said, ‘I think we all ought to hear from one more pianist.’ I went over to Duke’s chair and led him to the piano.
The room was hushed as he sat quietly for a moment. Then he said he would improvise a melody. ‘I shall pick a name — gentle, graceful — something like Patricia,’ he said.
And when he started to play it was lyrical, delicate, and beautiful — like Pat.