By Marshall Garvey
When Richard Nixon left the Oval Office in 1974, many assumed he would maintain a low profile. Instead, he confounded expectations and, through an assiduous dedication to writing and traveling, he remained as vital to American and global politics as ever. Indeed, from leaving office to his passing in 1994, President Nixon was perhaps even more sought after for his wisdom, especially in regard to international relations. New York Times columnist William Safire put it best in 1989 when he wrote,
“By traveling as a private citizen, he could be the most special envoy: unofficial, above politics, even above diplomacy.”
It was only five years into his post-presidency when President Nixon was summoned back to the White House for a crucial event. In January 1979, Chinese deputy premier Deng Xiaoping came to Washington for a state visit, the first ever by a leader of the People’s Republic of China in the United States. President Jimmy Carter, understanding the impact of Nixon’s brilliant statesmanship in opening to China in 1972, invited him to the State Dinner. He was called on again, two years later, after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, when President Ronald Reagan asked Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter to join him in representing America at the funeral.
President Nixon would make many more visits to Washington during the administrations of Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. True to his concurrent emergence as a prolific author, President Nixon also wrote to the presidents in office frequently to share his advice. Said Ronald Reagan,
“During my eight years in the White House, I relied on Richard Nixon’s insight and wisdom, and I will always be grateful for the benefit of his seasoned expertise.”
Even the month before he died in 1994, Nixon was as sharp a statesman as ever. He traveled to Russia to evaluate the country’s evolving situation in the first years after the Soviet Union’s dissolution, and upon his return gave a full written report to President Bill Clinton. Later on, Clinton told his biographer that Nixon’s report was the smartest document on foreign policy he’d received as President. President Nixon even gave a lecture in Washington for foreign policy experts, speaking for 90 minutes without notes and receiving a standing ovation upon finishing. At his funeral in Yorba Linda, Presidents Clinton, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush were all in attendance.
Just a few days after his death, Time Magazine writer John F. Stacks summed up his extended legacy perfectly: “History will judge Richard Nixon as much more than the Watergate man. And he leaves another, brighter monument: his own superhuman determination and stamina. It seems almost impossible that he has finally been defeated.”