On 31 December 1971, RN was in the Lincoln Sitting Room working on the text of one of the most important —and still understudied— documents of his administration. It was the strategic overview of his vision of foreign policy that would be sent to Congress on 9 February 1972 under the title U.S. Foreign Policy for the 1970s — The Emerging Structure of Peace.
On major holidays, both in and out of office, RN placed calls to friends and colleagues and others. Always high on that list were members of the inner circle —based on brains, accomplishment, loyalty, and character— that had surrounded him for many decades. Among this group were Don Kendall, Hobe Lewis, Clem Stone, Billy Graham, Bob Abplanalp, Bebe Rebozo, and, perhaps primes inter pares, Elmer Bobst.
Mrs. Mamdouha (Dodo) Bobst later described how she first met the Nixons:
it was shortly after I was in the United States that I met my late husband, Elmer Bobst, and a couple of months later he asked me if I would like to meet the Nixons in Washington. Of course I was naturally delighted, and we did go, and we spent a delightful afternoon with them. What impressed me most was their affection and how close they felt towards Elmer. When we were leaving, Pat threw her arms around me and gave me a huge — a big hug. All this time I had no inkling that it is the custom in the United States to take the one you intend to marry to meet your family and to get their approval. Well, I think I did pass that test — and I became a member of that wonderful family.
Elmer Bobst’s philanthropy included the Nixon Center, and at the dedication in 1995, Tricia Nixon Cox described the degree of personal warmth and mutual admiration that had long existed between the two families. She said that Elmer Bobst’s “intelligence, character, loyalty, patriotism, courage and generosity in many areas, including education and cancer research, made him an embodiment of the American dream. A mentor and father-figure to my father in all seasons since 1953, Elmer Bobst, or Uncle Elmer as Julie and I called him, was also a singular friend, who with his wife Mamdouha shared my father’s vision of a more just and peaceful world.”
Thus it was that on the eve of 1971, RN placed a call to the Bobsts in Palm Beach. It was, of course, characteristic of RN to be at work on New Year’s Eve; and connoisseurs may detect some well-masked incredulity on his part that anybody would rather be dancing and whooping it up at the Beach Club than putting in a few more solid and uninterrupted hours of thinking and writing.
Elmer Bobst was already in his 60s and at a pinnacle of a remarkable business career — which had included strong support for Eisenhower’s presidential candidacy— when he met the young Vice President Nixon in the early ’50s. Mr. Bobst had been born in 1883 in Maryland. His father had fought for the Union at Antietam and Chancelorsville and been imprisoned at Andersonville. Young Elmer had hoped to become a doctor. But he was only able to finish one year at Franklin and Marshall —thanks to a baseball scholarship— before family financial problems required him to leave and go to work.
He got a job in a drug store in Philadelphia and taught himself pharmacology at night; he passed the state exams and became a registered pharmacist in 1905. He also taught himself enough law to pass Pennsylvania’s preliminary bar exam in 1907. Once again family responsibilities required him to postpone pursuit of his own goals.
Starting out as a pharmaceutical salesman, Mr. Bobst ended up running two of the biggest and most important pharmaceutical companies in the world. He never forgot his early experiences, and the great philanthropist was also a model boss. In his 1973 memoir (The Autobiography of a Pharmaceutical Pioneer) memoirs he wrote that “I was so regularly underpaid and overworked that when I reached a position where I could do something about decent working conditions and generous employee benfits in the pharmaceutical industry, I did it.”
No less a raker of muck and than columnist Jack Anderson called Elmer Bobst “a veritable saint among the robber barons of the drug industry,” who “steered clear of price-fixing and other scandals that have characterized the industry.”
Mr. Bobst advised RN on health issues. He was very active in the work of the American Cancer Society, which he later considered to be his most important contribution to humanity.
Mamdouha Bobst was born in Lebanon. She studied at the American University of Beirut and did post-graduate work in England and America. She worked for the World Health Organization, and she became the youngest delegate, and the first woman, ever to serve on Lebanon’s mission to the United Nations.