Four Presidents have participated in the Nixon Foundation’s Meet the Presidents series, but never a First Lady – until First Lady Pat Nixon graced the East Room at the Nixon Library today. She spoke to children and audience members about her rise from poverty to success, marriage to Richard Nixon, and life as the nation’s First Lady.
Mrs. Nixon’s presentation was the fifth in the Nixon Foundation’s summer series Meet the Presidents. Each program includes interactive presentations by a different American President (or First Lady, in this case), Q&A sessions, photo opportunities, coloring time, and punch and cookies as a special treat for the youngsters.
Though many children had returned to school and were not able to attend, the large audience reacted enthusiastically to Mrs. Nixon.
She began by recalling her early life and upbringing, losing two parents as a teenager and having to work all kinds of odd jobs to support her brothers and sister. She taught shorthand and business at Whittier High School, acting occasionally as a hobby, and while in a play for a local theater group met Richard Milhous Nixon. “We had a lot in common,” Mrs. Nixon said, “I loved how he talked about traveling to faraway places.”
The rest of their story is history.
Mrs. Nixon recalled for the audience the importance of the First Lady to the President, and the unique role that she plays. “As First Lady, I am a role model for others,” she recalled. “I really hope that people get involved and volunteer. People are my projects!”
The First Lady also plans and hosts state dinners. “We brought the White House to the people,” Mrs. Nixon said, as she detailed how she often times hosted dinners outside of the White House. Her favorite was in honor of the Apollo 11 astronauts, with over 1000 people, held in a Los Angeles hotel ballroom.
Expanding her predecessors’ efforts, Mrs. Nixon added over 600 artifacts to the White House – the most of any administration. She told the audience that by working with curator Clem Conger, she added ramps for wheelchairs, special tours for the blind, and ordered the flag flown over the White House 24/7, whether the President was home or not.
As the most traveled First Lady – 78 nations over the course of her life – Mrs. Nixon’s travels were very important. Africa was a new first for a First Lady, and earthquake-ravaged Peru was diplomatically productive; that to China was the most historically significant. “They gave us two giant pandas, which we put in the Washington Zoo. In return, we gave them two oxen! Who in here has traveled the farthest?” she asked; Antarctica seemed to be the winner.
Questions to the First Lady included, “Do you have any pets?” “Are any schools named after you?” and “What was the importance of the trip to China?”
Mrs. Nixon’s presentation was given unanimous praise. People raved about shaking hands and greeting the First Lady, as the line for photos grew.
“Study hard in school,” she told the youngsters. And always remember: “Even when people can’t speak your language, they can tell if you have love in your heart.”
Bring your youngsters to the sixth and final presentation in our Meet the Presidents series: a very special presentation featuring President Richard Nixon (August 31), portrayed by his younger brother, Edward.
Click here to view the photo gallery.