Growing up with the future president

The voice, it’s unmistakable. Posture and gestures, hairline and profile, it’s all completely recognizable — and totally disarming.

When I met him, shook his hand and said “Hello, Mr. Nixon,” it took awhile to get my bearings. Yes, it’s 2009. No, I wasn’t in the presence of the 37th president of the United States.

It was Edward Nixon, the youngest of Richard Nixon’s four brothers and the only one surviving, who visited The Herald on Friday.

A longtime Lynnwood resident, the 78-year-old Nixon has just released a memoir, “The Nixons: A Family Portrait” (Book Publishers Network). Co-authored by Karen Olson, the book is no political tell-all.

Ed Nixon, who along with his brother Don was compelled to testify before the Senate Watergate Committee, shares little in the book about the political scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation in 1974. “Regarding Watergate, we had no firsthand knowledge of the break-in or anything that followed,” Ed Nixon writes tersely.

Dozens of books have been written about Watergate. Inside the cover of “The Nixons: A Family Portrait” are riveting, personal stories we haven’t read before. Ed Nixon’s memories of a Quaker upbringing in California, where his parents ran a small grocery in Whittier during the Depression, are bittersweet.

One brother, Arthur, died before Ed was born. Another, Harold, died when he was small. Both died from tuberculosis. The book tells of the close bond between young Dick Nixon, a dark, studious boy, and his sunny, spirited older brother, Harold.

Harold’s death, Ed Nixon writes, was life-altering for Richard: “Not only did he lose his best friend, but suddenly he was thrust into the role of eldest son.” Richard Nixon was 17 years older than Ed.

Their parents, he writes, were a study in how “opposites attract.” Frank Nixon, a Methodist who became a Quaker, had “rough Appalachian ways,” little education and strong political views. Hannah Milhous Nixon had gone to college. She was pious, proper and influential in the education of her sons.

Sitting at The Herald, with its view of the USS Abraham Lincoln, Ed Nixon recalled how he came to Seattle after earning a geology degree from Duke University and serving in the U.S. Navy. During his Navy years, he met his wife-to-be. Gay Nixon, now retired, was a math teacher in the Edmonds School District.

In 1960, Ed Nixon worked at the University of Washington as an ROTC instructor. In the mid-1960s, he worked in Washington, D.C., with the Apollo space project. The family later settled in rural Lynn­wood. He had his own company and was an adviser on earth science issues. Daughters Beth and Amy still live in this area.

Their world changed when Richard Nixon, a former congressman and President Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, won the 1968 presidential race. Those White House years brought highs and lows. The book includes Beth Nixon’s recollections of being teased at school because of her famous and sometimes unpopular uncle.

There were good times, too. Ed and Gay Nixon attended White House state dinners. “Gay and I stayed in the rose-colored Queen’s Bedroom across the hall from the famous Lincoln Bedroom,” he writes.

At Richard Nixon’s funeral in 1994, he chatted with President Bill Clinton and former President George Bush. “It’s a very small club,” he said.

Of all his memories, none were told with more delight than a tale of a long-ago driving trip. “Dick had finished law school, and he ordered a new car — a black Oldsmobile coupe. I was almost 9,” Ed Nixon recalled.

They took a train to Chicago, then traveled to Michigan to pick up the car. With Dick Nixon driving the shiny Olds and little brother Ed in the passenger seat, they drove home on Route 66, stopping in Claremore, Okla., to see the Will Rogers Memorial and in Arizona to see Meteor Crater.

“I became a map reader,” Ed Nixon said. Seeing the crater whetted his interest in geology. Dick Nixon, he said, always pushed him to learn.

Did we talk politics? A little.

He said Richard Nixon was a booster of energy independence way back in 1971. He’s convinced the answers to the nation’s problems lie in private investment. And he sees Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney, rather than “entertainer” Rush Limbaugh, as true leaders of today’s Republican Party.

No fan of the media’s treatment of his brother, he nevertheless believes Richard Nixon’s accomplishments are being recognized.

“Healing has come with patience,” Ed Nixon said. “You see the total life of the man.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

A voter turns in a ballot on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, outside the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
On fourth try, Arlington Heights voters overwhelmingly pass fire levy

Meanwhile, in another ballot that gave North County voters deja vu, Lakewood voters appeared to pass two levies for school funding.

Judge Whitney Rivera, who begins her appointment to Snohomish County Superior Court in May, stands in the Edmonds Municipal Court on Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Judge thought her clerk ‘needed more challenge’; now, she’s her successor

Whitney Rivera will be the first judge of Pacific Islander descent to serve on the Snohomish County Superior Court bench.

In this Jan. 4, 2019 photo, workers and other officials gather outside the Sky Valley Education Center school in Monroe, Wash., before going inside to collect samples for testing. The samples were tested for PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as dioxins and furans. A lawsuit filed on behalf of several families and teachers claims that officials failed to adequately respond to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the school. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Judge halves $784M for women exposed to Monsanto chemicals at Monroe school

Monsanto lawyers argued “arbitrary and excessive” damages in the Sky Valley Education Center case “cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

Mukilteo Police Chief Andy Illyn and the graphic he created. He is currently attending the 10-week FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. (Photo provided by Andy Illyn)
Help wanted: Unicorns for ‘pure magic’ career with Mukilteo police

“There’s a whole population who would be amazing police officers” but never considered it, the police chief said.

Officers respond to a ferry traffic disturbance Tuesday after a woman in a motorhome threatened to drive off the dock, authorities said. (Photo provided by Mukilteo Police Department)
Everett woman disrupts ferry, threatens to drive motorhome into water

Police arrested the woman at the Mukilteo ferry terminal Tuesday morning after using pepper-ball rounds to get her out.

Bothell
Man gets 75 years for terrorizing exes in Bothell, Mukilteo

In 2021, Joseph Sims broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home in Bothell and assaulted her. He went on a crime spree from there.

Allan and Frances Peterson, a woodworker and artist respectively, stand in the door of the old horse stable they turned into Milkwood on Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Index, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Old horse stall in Index is mini art gallery in the boonies

Frances and Allan Peterson showcase their art. And where else you can buy a souvenir Index pillow or dish towel?

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night on December 11, 2017. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Providence to pay $200M for illegal timekeeping and break practices

One of the lead plaintiffs in the “enormous” class-action lawsuit was Naomi Bennett, of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Dorothy Crossman rides up on her bike to turn in her ballot  on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Voters to decide on levies for Arlington fire, Lakewood schools

On Tuesday, a fire district tries for the fourth time to pass a levy and a school district makes a change two months after failing.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.