Monday, February 16, 2009

The Happiest Library In The World

In 1938, in the midst of the real Great Depression, Richard Nixon, then working as an attorney in Whittier and La Habra, California, bought a stripped-down black two-door Oldsmobile (no heater or radio) and saved a little more money by picking it up at the factory in Michigan. He decided to take along his eight-year-old brother Edward. They hopped a train to Detroit, picked up the car, and then started home to Whittier. Ed said, "Dick handed me a map and said, 'We're going to Los Angeles, and we're taking Route 66. If you can find a stretch of road that's long and straight enough, I'l let you drive.' He let me drive plenty, as it turned out."

Will Rogers had died three years before, and so the brothers stopped off in Claremore, Oklahoma to see the Rogers Memorial, which had just opened. Richard pointed to a bronze plaque at the base of Rogers' statue and asked his little brother to read out the humorist and commentator's most famous quotation: "I never yet met a man that I didn't like."

As Ed tells it, "Dick said, 'What do you think that means?' I replied, 'I guess it means he hasn't met everyone yet'."

The vignette is about two born introverts teaching one another to trust but verify when it came to strangers. Richard and Edward actually shared the same gentle heart, probably better suited to the latter's chosen and relatively solitary career choice of geology. The rock-ribbed Nixon and sole survivor among Hannah and Frank's five boys was in Yorba Linda today to talk about his new book, The Nixons: A Family Portrait, to a crowd of 800, many of whom waited in line for two hours after his talk to have him sign their copies. The crowd was full of Nixons, Milhouses, and Marshburns, representatives of a sturdy and diverse family that should get a deserved moment in the sun thanks to Ed's colorful memoir (whose working title was once "The Rest Of Us").

It was also my last day at the Nixon Foundation before beginning full-time ministry at St. John's. I'm with Mr. Rogers: In 18 years, I never met a man or woman I didn't like at the Nixon Library. I got to say goodbye to about 30 of our Docent volunteers, summoned by our event master, Sandy Quinn, to help with our 2,000 Presidents Day visitors. Our Docents are renowned throughout the Presidential library system for their hospitality and expertise. Entertaining and educating our audience as usual was Paula Burton's corps of school-age Celebration USA Singers. Representatives of American Legion Richard Nixon Post #679 were in full force, selling poppies and telling visitors about our chapter's growing membership. Only at the strictly bipartisan Nixon Library will you find Abraham Lincoln and Harry S Truman giving lessons in Presidential history to young and old alike. My successor, former RN chief of staff Kathy O'Connor, cheerfully worked the crowd. Legendary former Orange County GOP chairmen Tom Fuentes (complete with his new liver) and Lois Lundberg were in their accustomed places of honor. Clara Jane Nixon, widow of Richard and Edward's brother Donald, and Bob Meador (shown above left) were honored as founding members of the Nixon Birthplace Foundation, which preserved the President's birthplace and its furnishings to be enjoyed by 150,000 Library visitors each year.

President Nixon's friend and White House aide Bruce Herschensohn (who wants to tell you all about his iPhone, whose apps include the full text of Anna Karenina and "Where's My Car?") and my devoted and beloved assistant of nearly 17 years, Cheryl Saremi, seemed to concur that the Library would persist without me (though I have trouble imagining the world without them, shown above). I was even blessed to meet the youngest Nixonian, Lily Feith, daughter of former Docent Guild president Steve Feith and his wife, Danielle. Indoctrination begins early at the Nixon Library, so we should have Lily conversant on the Hiss case by age five. For now, Godspeed, my friends and colleagues. You know where to find me.


BigE said...

Fr. John:

Thanks for your tremendous service to the Nixon Library. Best wishes on your ministry!

Fr. John said...

Thanks, BigE!