Author’s Note: Nineteen years ago tonight marks the anniversary of the dinner honoring the Library’s dedication. The following article appeared in the Checkers newsletter in the August 1990 issue.
As a bit of background, Checkers was a newsletter started by Chris Crain, a prolific collector of Richard Nixon political memorabilia. Checkers was published four times a year between 1975 to 1994.
I was Assistant Editor of the newsletter from 1986 to 1991. In those days, we complied the newsletter should I say, manually. There was a deadline to submit articles. The illustrations were photocopied and placed on the page. Chris would then type around the illustrations. What we could have done with modern technology of desktop publishing…
I will always be grateful to Chris Crain for giving me my first opportunity to write about Richard Nixon.
So here are my thoughts after the dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel. I would be most interested to hear from anyone else who was there that night.
There are no second tables here; only first tables You are all our friends—RN
The evening festivities took place in Los Angeles with a ‘celebration gala’ at the Century Plaza Hotel. The black tie dinner honoring President and Mrs. Nixon and their family followed the morning’s dedication of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda.
When our party arrived at the hotel, our cab was greeted by protesters. We weren’t sure exactly what they were protesting, but the following day’s newspaper said it appeared to be about 30 different causes.
The formal reception began at 7:00pm in California Lounge. Inside was a virtual treasure trove for autograph seekers. Several former Nixon administration officials and other celebrities were making the rounds outside the banquet room. Notables such as Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, George Romney, H.R. Haldeman, William Simon, Richard Allen, Pat Buchanan, Ken Khachigian and Herb Klein. Celebrities included Foster Brooks, George Allen, Tom Landry and Cesar Romero. There were some people that fit both categories, like Benjamin Stein. Stein, a former speechwriter for the Nixon administration, presently appears on “The Wonder Years,” a top-rated television series.
About 8:00pm, people began entering the Los Angeles Ballroom for dinner. A program greeted each place at the table. Featured in each program was a 5” x 7” color photograph of the entire Nixon family. The photograph had been taken on the occasion of the Nixons’ 50th Wedding Anniversary at their home in Saddle River, New Jersey. This photograph made the program a very special one indeed.
Seated at our table were the Crains, Eldon Almquist, Bob Fuhr, Harry Jeffery, Jim Carskadon, Jack and Darlene Cook and myself. Seated at the other NPIC table, on the other side of the ballroom, were Les and Susan Spreen, Phil and Jean Baldwin, Lu Paletta, Lloyd and Mabel Johnson and Donna and Bill Hickman.
After a welcome by Bruce Herschenson, the Master of Ceremonies, and the invocation by Billy Graham, the appetizer, salad and entrée were served. According to the wishes of Mrs. Nixon, the dinner featured a low sodium meal. While dinner was being served, the All-American Boys Chorus sang to the guests. It was at this point that the most personally event almost occurred.
The area where the Boys Chorus was singing was directly across from the head table. Between dinner and dessert, former President Nixon appeared on the stage, briefly leading the chorus in song. It quickly became apparent that RN might attempt to greet each table. Maybe I would get to meet him.
Many thoughts crossed my mind. What would I say? Perhaps tell him what his legacy meant to younger Americans like myself. Maybe just a “how about those Mets?” There probably wouldn’t be enough time. I would have a few moments at the very most.
My inner excitement grew as the former President approached. A crowd of people, with RN in the middle, moved toward our table. It was a different feeling seeing the former President in this setting. Slightly larger than life, but also one of us. A bodyguard walked ahead, clearing the way. People were getting up and greeting RN. This, unfortunately, made passage a little difficult. I had no desire to push my way into the crowd. RN looked taller than I thought he would be. As he passed by our table he shook Chris’ hand. He then reached over and shook Candy Crain’s hand. By the time I extended my hand the group had moved on. I guess that’s what one would call a near brush with history.
After dessert the program continued. Norman Vincent Peale recounted his visit to Vietnam, as well as personal memories of the Nixon family. Bob Hope provided some comic entertainment. Hope quipped that the library dedication was an opportunity to see Mount Rushmore live. He also noticed that Yorba Linda was the only place in which Nixon T-shirts were outselling the Simpsons. Hope’s remarks were followed by two toasts to the Nixons. Maurice Stans gave a toast to Pat Nixon and Ambassador Walter Annenberg gave a toast to President Nixon. President Nixon was then introduced by William Simon.
At the beginning of his remarks, President Nixon recognized all of the people who had spoken on his behalf. He remembered that he probably knew Les Brown the longest. Brown and his band had played at Duke Law School while RN attended there in the 1930s. RN recalled Mrs. Billy Graham’s show of support during the time of his brush with death in a Long Beach hospital in 1975. He thanked Norman Vincent Peale for the support given his family over the years. He recognized Bob Hope’s contribution to the USO and his frequent visits to American servicemen overseas. In total, RN expressed his deep appreciation for friends who stuck by in the darkest of times. While RNs evening remarks carried the theme of his dedication speech, the tone was much more personal. In a highlight to the evening, Mrs. Nixon said a few words after the program.
Finally, it was over. It had been a most memorable day. All of the planning and anticipation were reality. It truly was the event of a lifetime!