“Peace at the center”: RN smiling at Marie Abplanalp’s wedding

Saturday, April 16, 1994 was a great day in the life of the 37th President. Marie Abplanalp, daughter of his friend Bob, was getting married in Bronxville, New York. President Nixon was a special guest at the beautiful service at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and the wedding reception that followed at the Westchester Country Club.

Seldom one to linger at social occasions, the former President enjoyed every minute of this one. Surrounded by family and close friends, including Julie and David Eisenhower, Tricia and Ed Cox, Bebe Rebozo, and of course the Abplanalp family, his day was filled with laughter and happiness. Tons of photographs were taken of the delighted President with the happy couple and other guests.

And yet the all-too-brief countdown to the end of the life of a 20th century icon, a beloved father and grandfather, peacemaker, and admired and respected boss had begun.

Monday began with additional cause for celebration. The page proofs for Beyond Peace, his last book, arrived and were waiting for him on his desk in his office in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, a mile or so from his home in Park Ridge. Working from home most of the day, the President was feeling good and reviewing his options for the upcoming book tour he would begin shortly.

But everything changed dramatically when, in the early evening, as he relaxed on his patio before dinner, President Nixon suffered a devastating stroke and was rushed to New York Hospital. His family, friends, and staff kept a grueling five-day vigil that ended with his peaceful passing at 9:08 p.m. on Friday, April 22, exactly 10 months to the day after Mrs. Nixon’s passing.

I often refer to President Nixon’s death as untimely. People have asked why I describe it as such since he lived a full life and was 81 years old.

But it was just too soon. He wasn’t done yet. There were people and places he wanted to visit. He had hoped to visit Rome that summer and seek an audience with John Paul II. There were important policy issues he was working on, ongoing dialogs with world leaders. There were additional books he planned to write, even though after every one, he would inevitably claim it was his last.

Most important of all, there were grandchildren he wanted to watch grow up — grandsons he wanted to take to baseball games, granddaughters he wanted to watch in school plays and dance recitals. There never enough hours in the day for Richard Nixon, never enough days in the year.

As I said goodbye to this amazing man and cherished mentor, like many who knew Richard Nixon and loved him, I was overwhelmed with sadness. His energy and drive made one think he would be around forever.

As a Christian, I naturally took comfort in knowing he was Home. I remembered something he said after Mrs. Nixon’s passing in June 1993. Perhaps experiencing a moment of absolute clarity, the former President said, “Don’t worry, Pat, I’ll be with you again soon.” That thought still makes me smile.