Merry Christmas

    MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERY ONE!

    If you are watching your mail box or front door for our cards and gifts this year, we respectfully request that you enjoy the realization that a donation has been made, in lieu of our annual cards, to the Docent Guild at the Richard Nixon Presidential Foundation. They are an amazing, dedicated and knowledgeable group of volunteers that make the RN Library and Birthplace a very special place.

    MAY YOUR HOLIDAY BE FULL OF LOVE, LAUGHTER
    and all the
    SPECIAL BLESSINGS OF THE SEASON

    It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, all around Coyote Base. We’ve decorated our tree, it’s red white and blue. Full of flags, some that I quilted, and patriotic ornaments all about the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. The “Birthplace Ornament” holds a special place of honor.

    Tricia Nixon Cox, her husband Ed and son Christoper sent us, Christmas at the White House by Jennifer B. Pickens. It’s a beautiful coffee table book with reflections from the Kennedy to the Bush 43 White House Christmases. Mrs. Nixon adored Christmas and was known for the beautiful decorations during the Christmases she was in the White House.

    Writing in 1969, a Time magazine reporter observed: “Few presidential couples . . . have gone at the Christmastime merrymaking with quite the gusto of Richard and Pat Nixon. For the holidays they have peopled the place with choirs, Bob Hope, the Apollo 12 astronauts and more than 6,000 other Americans, renowned and unknown.”

    The Walker family proudly numbered 5 unknowns among the 6,000 invited guests. In anticipation of this memorable party, I made our three little girls, then 8,7,and 6, blue velvet dresses with white, lace trimmed collars. Their outfits were complemented by white tights and brand new, shiny maryjane patent leather shoes. When we were about ready to drive to the White House, they looked so adorable, that Ron insisted they have their pictures taken outside with the pine trees as a festive backdrop. During the process of posing, Marja took time out to climb an inviting tree limb, cut herself, and then proceeded to bleed all over her white collar. So much for a motherly vision of precious, angelic little girls going to a White House Christmas party.

    Mrs. Nixon is credited with introducing more holiday customs than any of the first ladies preceding her. In 1969 she started the holiday tradition of candlelight evening tours. She said she wanted sightseers to see the mansions beautiful public rooms, “so filled with history, and now aglow with the magic and spirit of Christmas.” White House candlelight tours are still very popular. Another anticipated event is the unveiling of the gingerbread house in the State Dining Room. The White House chef creates a new, completely edible one each year.

    Another of Mrs. Nixon’s holiday innovations was to showcase Christmas cards and artifacts from past presidencies. A 1866 edition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” that President Franklin Roosevelt always read aloud to his family on Christmas eve. Another was a small fire engine that President Hoover gave to his secretary’s son, as a memento of a fire in the West Wing the year before. Another artifact on display was a large dollhouse, made for ten year old Fanny Hays, daughter of President Rutherford Hays, by the White House carpenter in 1877. Mrs. Nixon liked it so much that it was on display all year and today it can be seen at the Hays Presidential Center.

    In 1971 it was Mrs. Nixon’s request that disabled workers be given the opportunity to make the Christmas ornaments. “State balls” were made for each of the 50 states. First ladies have continued the tradition of the state balls, and Laura Bush took the tradition a wonderful step further, by highlighting each of our National Parks as part of the state balls collection. Even in years when the state balls were left packed away, the First Lady will often commission new ornaments to represent all fifty states, continuing the tradition inspired by Mrs. Nixon. In 1971 she told an interviewer, “I suppose of all the places we’ve spent Christmas, the White House must be our favorite.”

    Thank you Tricia, Ed and Christoper for a thoughtful and beautiful gift.

    When President Nixon appointed Ron to be the Eighth Director of the National Park Service, I made a special request. It had bothered me to see that the National Christmas Tree on the mall was one that was cut down and trucked to Washington each year. I thought it would be a grand idea to plant one on the mall. A permanent National Christmas tree. Secretary of the Interior, Rogers C. B. Morton thought it was such a good idea that he took full credit for the innovation. I’m OK with that, because our permanent National Christmas Tree came to be. I’m proud of “my beautiful Christmas tree” on the National mall and delight in watching the “Pageant of Peace” tree lighting ceremony each year on live television. The Walker family attended the event one year when Ron was Director. It was a freezing, but festive ceremony. Another year I was on hand when First Lady Barbara Bush rode a cherry picker basket to put the finishing decorations on the top of the tree. One great and gutsy girl, that “Bar.”

    In 1972, Mrs. Nixon chose the theme “Nature’s Bounty” and the White House decorations were done in Della Robbia style. She told reporters that she had always liked Della Robbia wreaths, in which real fruits are mixed with greenery and pine cones, and for years had given them to friends as Christmas gifts. My mother did the very same thing. We always had Della Robbia wreaths in our home at Christmas, and we gave them as gifts, perhaps it was originally a California thing.

    As 2009 comes to an end, we pray for our country. We pray for the current President and his family as they prepare for their first White House Christmas. Carved in the mantel of the State Dining Room fireplace, surely decked in festive holiday tradition as I write this, is the inscription written by John Adams: “I pray Heaven to Bestow the Best of Blessings on THIS HOUSE and on All that shall hereafter Inhabit it. May none but honest and Wise Men rule under this roof.”

    Let us all add an AMEN to the prayer of President John Adams.

      Time's Man (Whoops, Person) Of All Time

        Tonight, Diane Sawyer, former aide in the Nixon White House who also was an editorial assistant for RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, made her debut as anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight. She did not get around to mentioning her old boss.

        But over at NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams found some time for the thirty-seventh President. He reported on a blog called Teqnolog, which this weekend examined the thousands of images at Time magazine’s site to determine whose face had appeared on that venerable newsmagazine’s cover more often than any other.

        The winner was not a complete surprise. I recall reading in Time once or twice in the last fifteen years that Richard Nixon had been on the cover more often than anyone else. But Technoloq did a breakdown on the 15 others who had appeared on the cover ten times or more. Here they are:

        RN – 48 covers
        Ronald Reagan – 45
        Bill Clinton – 33
        George W. Bush – 31
        Jimmy Carter – 27
        Barack Obama – 24
        Gerald R. Ford – 20
        Lyndon B. Johnson – 19
        George H.W. Bush – 18
        Dwight D. Eisenhower – 18
        Hillary Clinton – 16
        John F. Kennedy – 14
        Saddam Hussein – 12
        Franklin D. Roosevelt – 11
        Al Gore – 10
        John McCain – 10

        It should be mentioned that these figures include covers in which the sixteen mentioned appear with other people, such as Henry Kissinger, or Leonid Brezhnev, or each other. (In fact, in 1976 Reagan, Carter and Ford were on the same cover.) In Nixon’s case, he appeared by himself on 24 of his 48 covers, while FDR and Hussein were solo on almost all of their covers.

        It may not be much of a surprise that the Secretary of State was the only woman on this list (though the former Governor of Alaska may catch up by 2012), but to have Saddam Hussein appear on more covers than, say, Stalin or Castro or Gorbachev or even Churchill is somewhat startling.

        The blog pointed out that President Obama, in less than two years, or about 100 weeks, since he scored his first Time cover, has risen to sixth place on this list, while it took RN until the early Seventies, nearly two decades after his first appearance, to get to 24 covers. Teqnolog remarked that at this pace, it would take Obama only another two years to surpass RN, by which time he’d still be in his first term, and that if he were re-elected and featured as frequently as he is now, he could perhaps have his face on as many as 150 covers.

        And even if the President failed to be re-elected, he’d still stand a good chance of building on such a number – FDR, JFK, Reagan, and of course RN were on the cover more than once after leaving office.

          Oral Roberts   1918 – 2009

            Oral Robert died last week.  His death was widely noted, but most of the obituaries either overlooked or underestimated the importance of his life and career and his major impact on American religion and life.  Many reflected the ridicule that resulted from his claim in January 1987 that God would “call him home” unless his supporters ponied up $8 million by March, and the fact that other, younger, televangelists were now commanding the scene.   Notable exceptions were Keith Schneider’s piece in The New York Times and a few of the posts on the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” blog.

            The latter quoted Grant Wacker, professor of Christian history at Duke University, assessing Roberts’ influence on the religious history of America:

            I’d say if we set aside Billy Graham and Martin Luther King and Falwell in the sense that their influence was religious but also political and social, outside them Roberts was the most important religious figure in the second half of the 20th Century. Just as a religious figure. And in lots of ways.

            The most obvious way was he brought Pentecostalism out of the backwoods and made it respectable. One cannot imagine the modern day Pentecostalism without him. He transformed its image, but also its practice.

            And in the Times, Schneider noted that:

            His influence derived from his intimate understanding of those who turned to him for worship. They were white and black and Hispanic, the poor and the ill, hard-working people who could not afford an abundance of material possessions but whose dreams of health and prosperity were tied to an abiding love of God.

            The rise of his ministry coincided with the development of television. Mr. Roberts was among the first American religious leaders to recognize and deploy this new communications tool to touch people, and he seized on its extraordinary national and global reach. It helped that he was a natural showman, capable of booming, florid oratory. But he could also be intimate and tender, relying on a homespun speaking style, a gentle touch and a deep knowledge of Scripture to connect with his followers, many of whom viewed him as heroic.

            He began his television career in 1954 by filming worship services conducted under a traveling tent, the largest of which held 10,000 people.

            Mr. Roberts’s will to succeed, as well as his fame, helped to elevate Pentecostal theology and practice, including the belief in faith healing, divine miracles and speaking in tongues, to the religious mainstream. During the 1970s, Time magazine reported, his television program “Oral Roberts and You” was the leading religious telecast in the nation.

            Oral Roberts University estimated that Mr. Roberts, its founder and first president, had personally laid his hands on more than 1.5 million people during his career, reached more than 500 million people on television and radio, and received millions of letters and appeals.

            Mr. Roberts’s prominence and will to succeed were important factors in building the Pentecostal and charismatic movements and combining them into the fastest-growing Christian movements in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s.

            By the 1960s, Roberts had a powerful base in Oklahoma. This was partly thanks to the formidable infrastructure he was building there.  (By the 1980s, Oral Robert Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University were $110 million operations employing more than 2,300 people.)

            And it was partly thanks to the fact that Oklahoma congressman Carl Albert was the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives from 1962 until 1971 when he became Speaker of the House, and to the arrival (with RN in 1969) of Henry Bellmon, Oklahoma’s once and future Governor, for the first of his two terms in the United States Senate, followed, thanks to RN’s 1972 landslide,  by Dewey Bartlett, another former Governor, to fill the state’s other Senate seat.

            Roberts met with President Kennedy in the White House in 1963; in 1972; he gave the invocation at the Democratic National Convention; in 1977 President Carter entertained him to dinner there. In 1972, through the agency of Oklahoma’s newly-elected Republican Senator Dewey Bartlett, Roberts visited with RN. Their meeting was described by David Edwin Harrell in Oral Roberts: An American Life:

            Senator Dewey Bartlett of Oklahoma informed Nixon that Roberts would like to meet him, and the president issued Oral three invitations — the first two the evangelist could not accept because of schedule conflicts. When Oral entered the Oval Office, he thanked Nixon for the inspiration he had been to him, recalling that Nixon’s struggle to overcome political setbacks had been an encouragement to him in 1968 when it seemed his ministry was near collapse. The two compared television techniques; Oral gave the president a portfolio of materials about ORU, and Nixon gave him a Bible. “I’m going to pray for you, then I want you to pray for me.” Wallis [sic] Henley, a young White house aide and a former religion writer from Birmingham, Alabama, bolted to attention, wondering “how the president would react.” The small group clasped hands in the middle of the Oval Office, and Oral prayed first. Then Nixon prayed, Henley recalled, “A simple utterance in the straightforward Quaker style.” Oral later described his impression of the prayer: “He opened up in a strong voice, ‘Our Father,’ and I mean he prayed a prayer. He prayed for me. He prayed for my ministry; he prayed for Oral Roberts University; he prayed for the faculty; he prayed for the students. I’ve been considering adding him to our team ever since. In all seriousness, I was deeply moved by the prayer the may prayed.”

            Qn article by Erika I. Ritchie in the Orange County Register quoted an interview with the Register last April in which Roberts recalled the presidents he had met.

            Q. What presidents have you met with?

            A. John Kennedy, (Richard) Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

            Q. What were they like?

            A. John Kennedy, he was the most powerful man. The first question he asked me was, “How are your crusades, Rev. Roberts?”

            Nixon was interested in my television ministry. He asked me, “How can I be as relaxed as you are on TV?”

            Jimmy Carter was a different breed. He was the first born-again man in the White House. He was not prepared for the job, but he was brilliant and intellectual and he loved the Lord.

            And Samuel Rodriguez, founding pastor of Third Day Worship Centers and President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, wrote that:

            Roberts repudiated all vestiges of racism and emerged as one of the initial advocates of a multi-ethnic Kingdom culture movement. He refused to participate in evangelistic outreaches if African American churches were not represented, a commitment to diversity that preceded the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Roberts also helped to open and broaden the Pentecostal Charismatic movement beyond specific denominations to welcome independent Charismatics, including Catholics.

            Critics of Roberts will remember him for an extemporaneous claim that God would take him home if millions would not be raised for his university. But many Christians will remember him as the leader of a movement committed to healing — not just the body, mind and soul, but communities, nations and a church divided by theological and ethnic differences.

            Q. What presidents have you met with?
            A. John Kennedy, (Richard) Nixon and Jimmy Carter.
            Q. What were they like?
            A. John Kennedy, he was the most powerful man. The first question he asked me was, “How are your crusades, Rev. Roberts?”
            Nixon was interested in my television ministry. He asked me, “How can I be as relaxed as you are on TV?”
            Jimmy Carter was a different breed. He was the first born-again man in the White House. He was not prepared for the job, but he was brilliant and intellectual and he loved the Lord.
            Q. What do you think about President Barack Obama?
            A. He is the man of this time. He’s taken the burdens of the presidency in a remarkable manner. If he keeps on going the way he’s going, he’ll be a remarkable president. I voted for him.

              The Watergate Hotel Back In The News

                In July I wrote here about the uncertain status of the Watergate Hotel, best remembered, of course, for the break-in that ultimately brought about the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency. At that time, the hotel had been put up for auction by Deutsche Bank, after Monument Realty, the company that had owned the hotel and planned to convert it to condominiums (until tenants of the Watergate apartment complex challenged the move), had lost the property as a result of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which had been the primary financial backer of the project.

                The auction in July produced no buyers, and the hotel has remained in limbo since. But recent weeks have seen a change in this status. Monument, with new backing, put in a bid this fall to reacquire the Watergate. It was outbid by the Jumeirah Group of Dubai, a leader in the luxury hotel field. But thanks to Dubai’s financial crisis in recent weeks, the Jumeirah bid fell apart. Now, the Washington Post reports that Monument’s bid has been accepted and the deal is expected to close next month. The company’s plans are to reopen the structure as a luxury hotel.

                I stayed at the Watergate for Thanksgiving weekend in 2001, when it was part of the Swissotel group, and well remember the excellent Continental-themed cuisine of the restaurant. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that, although “Watergate” for most of America will always bring to mind wiretaps and taped doors, the reopened hotel will again be a fine place to visit.

                  Transition At ABC News

                    Last week, Diane Sawyer, onetime aide to President Nixon in the White House and, after his resignation, at San Clemente, concluded her decade-long run as anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America; in rather symmerical fashion, she was replaced on Monday by George Stephanopoulos, who came to national notice as one of Bill Clinton’s top advisors in 1992 (and White House communications advisor during that president’s first term).

                    On Friday, Charles Gibson, after three years anchoring ABC’s World News Tonight, made his final broadcast. This Monday, Sawyer will replace him.

                    These transitions, as Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune points out, are being made with a minimum of fuss. ABC’s top executives keenly recall the backlash that resulted from the hoopla surrounding Katie Couric’s debut as anchor of the CBS Evening News, and the corresponding decline in that network’s ratings. Their object is to maintain ABC’s place as the second-most watched evening news show (after Brian Williams at NBC Nightly News) and, hopefully, build from there.

                    Only time will tell if Sawyer can increase viewership from the base generated by Gibson’s low-key appeal. But her presence in the anchor chair serves as another reminder of the wide-ranging impact the Nixon era has had on today’s world.

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