Letters reveal Nixon as young Romeo
YORBA LINDA, CALIF. | Long before Richard Nixon rose to power and fell from grace, the future president was just another man in love.
Decades before he became known to some as “Tricky Dick,” Nixon was the one coining nicknames (sweet ones) for his future bride, in gushy love notes that reveal a surprisingly soft and romantic side of the man taken down by Watergate. Nixon shared the stage with Patricia Ryan in a community theater production and six of the dozens of letters they exchanged during their two-year courtship will be unveiled Friday at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum as part of an exhibit celebrating the 100th birthday of the woman Mr. Nixon playfully called his “Irish gypsy.”
In Nixon’s letters, he recalls their first meeting in flowery prose, daydreams about their future together and waxes poetic about the first time his “dearest heart” agreed to take a drive with him.
“Every day and every night I want to see you and be with you. Yet I have no feeling of selfish ownership or jealousy,” he writes in one undated letter. “Let’s go for a long ride Sunday; let’s go to the mountains weekends; let’s read books in front of fires; most of all, let’s really grow together and find the happiness we know is ours.”
Nearly 18 years after Nixon’s death, the correspondence offers a tiny window into a fiercely private side of Nixon that almost no one ever saw and represents a love letter of sorts to fans of the 37th president, who were infuriated when the National Archives took over the museum and overhauled it to include a detailed chronicle of Watergate.
“These letters are fabulous. It’s a totally different person from the Watergate tapes that people know,” said Olivia Anastasiadis, supervisory museum curator.
In stark contrast to the grim-faced leader forced to resign in 1974, the young Nixon comes across as an ardent and persistent suitor in the letters, which date from 1938 to just before the couple’s marriage in June 1940.
The two met while auditioning for “The Dark Tower” in the Southern California town of Whittier and dated for two years before Nixon proposed to his sweetheart on the south Orange County cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They were married in a small ceremony June 21, 1940.
In two of the handwritten notes, Nixon — raised a Quaker — uses “thee” instead of “you” to refer to his future bride, a pronoun that signals a special closeness in the Quaker tradition. He also writes about himself in the third person, referring to himself as a “prosaic person” whose heart was nonetheless “filled with that grand poetic music” upon knowing her.
“Somehow on Tuesday there was something electric in the usually almost stifling air in Whittier. And now I know. An Irish gypsy who radiates all that is happy and beautiful was there,” Nixon wrote.
A much more practical — and somewhat less impulsive — Pat Ryan replies in one short note: “In case I don’t see you before why don’t you come early Wednesday (6) and I’ll see if I can burn a hamburger for you.”
Six of the dozens of letters Richard Nixon and Patricia Ryan exchanged during their two-year courtship will be unveiled Friday at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif.