“In the Shadow of the White House”

Jo Haldeman, wife of chief-of-staff Bob Haldeman, Tells Her Story

Jo Haldeman, the widow of President Nixon’s chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman read selections from her new memoir In the Shadow of the White House: A Memoir of the Washington and Watergate Years, 1968-1978. Mrs. Haldeman described her book not as a history of Watergate, nor as a biography of her husband, but as her story.

Mrs. Haldeman’s memoir was inspired by her now thirty-four year old grandson  — who when he was in the eighth grade mentioned that his class was studying Watergate. She then became determined to give her grandchildren a fuller picture and appreciation of her and her husband’s “experience in Washington than they would get from their textbooks.”

The timeline of her book covers a ten-year period from Richard Nixon’s presidential nomination in July 1968 to the day Bob Haldeman was released from prison in December 1978.

Larry Higby, Bob Haldeman’s assistant chief of staff, introduced Mrs. Haldeman.

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Program Highlights:

First Lady’s Dinner Party: In March 1969, Jo Haldeman attends a dinner party for White House wives. She finds the new environment and protocol intimidating. Her husband says, “just follow the other ladies…. Do what they do. I’m sure you won’t be the only one there for the first time.” After dinner, she meets a “stately” older woman standing alone and introduces herself. “I know who you are, my dear,” the woman says, extending her right hand. “I’m Mrs. Warren.”  “It’s nice to meet you,” Mrs. Haldeman replies. “Is your husband part of the Nixon White House?”  “No, dear, he’s the chief justice of the Supreme Court.” Mrs. Warren smiles pleasantly and drifts away.

Shades of Gray: In November 1969, the Haldeman and Ehrlichman (White House Domestic Policy Advisor John Ehrlichman) families attend the launch of Apollo XII at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Following the launch, they return home to Washington and witness a candle-lit procession of demonstrators against the Vietnam War. Mrs. Haldeman comes to the conclusion that most were decent and peaceful individuals:  “Up until this moment, I have generally viewed life in terms of black and white. I considered the antiwar demonstrators a bunch of hippies…In contrast the moon launch was patriotic and unifying…. I now view the protestors in shades of gray.”

Heroic Swim: In January 1971, Bob and Jo Haldeman accompany some White House staff members to the Virgin Islands where President Nixon is spending a long weekend. During one day trip of sailing and snorkeling, Bob Haldeman and assistant Larry Higby remain on-call via short wave radio, and receive a message from the President who needs them back on shore. One hundred yards from land, the wind dies, and both men decide to jump ship, swim toward the beach, and run for their parked jeep.

The Watergate Break-In: On June 18, 1972, The Haldemans are in Key Biscayne with the President. Reading on the terrace of the house where they’re staying, Mrs. Haldeman notices a headline from the Miami Herald, “Miamians Held in D.C. Try to Bug Demo Headquarters.” She asks her husband — busy at work — “What’s the deal on this crazy break-in at the Watergate.” He responds, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to bug the Democratic headquarters. It’s the last place in the world to get inside information.”

Resignation: On April 29, 1973, Mrs. Haldeman retrieves The Washington Post and reads that former White House Counsel John Dean reportedly is ready to swear that he gave both Ehrlichman and Haldeman progress reports on the Watergate cover-up. Later in the day while the press is swarming outside their home, the phone rings, and as Mr. Haldeman predicted, he has to go to Camp David where the President will ask for his resignation.

Jar of Jam: On December 27, 1974, the government presents its rebuttal in the case against Mr. Haldeman and other administration officials. The young lawyer from the prosecution, Richard Ben-Veniste, singles Mr. Haldeman out, and sarcastically likens the defendant to a little boy who gets caught with jam on his face. “Here’s the jam, ladies and gentlemen,” he exclaims. “It’s on Mr. Haldeman’s face. It’s on his hands, and he can’t get it off.” Every time Mr. Ben-Veniste cites more evidence against Mr. Haldeman, he repeats the story of the boy and jam. Following court, the Haldemans’ car breaks down and is hauled away by a tow truck. Mrs. Haldeman says that the bizarre scene suddenly became hilarious: “Giving into our pent-up emotions, the five us burst out laughing.”

Handleman: Mrs. Haldeman and her mother-in-law, who they called “Non,” visit Mr. Haldeman for the first time during his 18 month sentence at the Federal Prison Camp in Lompoc. As soon as they are cleared by security, he is notified over the loudspeaker, “Handleman, you have a visit.” Non responds, “They didn’t get the name right! How will Bob know it’s for him?” “Don’t worry, Non, he’ll know,” Mrs. Haldeman responds. The three sit at a table on the patio, and Mr. Haldeman talks about life at the camp and what his work assignment might be.

Order signed copies of In the Shadow of the White House here.