Maureen Nunn as Pat Nixon

By: 
Ben Miles

 

The Nixon Library in Yorba Linda has free admission on certain days of the year —including Presidents’ Day; Richard Nixon’s birthday (January 9); and on Mrs. Pat Nixon’s birthday (March 16).

Whether you regard Mr. Nixon with respect or contempt (or some combination of both), the Nixon Library itself is a treasure trove of historical facts and artifacts, which traces and displays events from the Civil Rights Movement to the moon landing to the Vietnam War, using state-of-the-art multimedia and interactive technology.

The Nixon Library is also a museum, an archival bastion, and it provides a venue for speakers and presentations that range from archconservative Pat Buchanan to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Ricks.

This year, on Pat Nixon’s 106th birthday, a commemoration was held with actress, bestselling author, and longtime Nixon family friend Maureen Nunn portraying the former First Lady. Though Ms. Nunn’s likeness and ebullience does not mirror Mrs. Nixon in manner or demeanor, the enactment  does evoke the fondness that Ms. Nunn still holds for Mrs. Nixon, as we in the “East Room” audience are apprised of some moving biographical facts. Mrs. Nixon, for example, was born in Ely, Nevada as Thelma; Catherine Ryan (her father William M. Ryan Sr. nicknamed his daughter “Pat” due to her birth being so near to St. Patrick’s Day); and she was raised, along with two older brothers, in Cerritos, California.

Mrs. Nixon’s mother died when Pat was 13-years-old; her father passed when she was 18.  Nevertheless, she attended Fullerton Junior College and graduated from the University of Southern California — cum laude in 1937 — with a degree in merchandising along with a teaching certificate.

Set up as a Q&A session with an interviewer (a role generically embodied by a Nixon Library docent), questions are also elicited from audience members. It’s revealing to know that Mrs. Nixon was once an aspiring actress and that she first met Mr. Nixon when they both were auditioning for parts in a community theater production in the city of Whittier. Both Pat and Richard landed roles in the play, and early on Mr. Nixon declared, much to Pat’s surprise, that one day they would be wed. In the interim, Mr. Nixon  willing chauffeured Pat to and from her dates with another suitor. With certainty it can be surmised: Richard M. Nixon was a singularly determined and ambitious man who was fortunate to marry such a lovely woman. 

The Nixon Library is located at 18001 Yorba Linda Boulevard, Yorba Linda. For hours and further information, call (714)983-9120; for program schedules, lecturer dates, and other details, visit nixonlibrary.gov.

ben@beachcomber.news

 

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