First Ladies: Patricia Ryan Nixon

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Pat Nixon was the wife of Richard Nixon, the 37th President.

Pat Nixon

Thelma Catherine “Pat” Nixon was born on March 16, 1912 in Ely, Nevada. She was the daughter of William M. and Katherine Halberstadt Ryan, Sr. She had two brothers and two half-siblings.

“It has been said that few, if any, First Ladies worked as consistently before their marriage as did Pat Nixon. As she told the writer Gloria Steinem during the 1968 presidential campaign, “I never had time to think about things like that—who I wanted to be, or who I admired, or to have ideas. I never had time to dream about being anyone else. I had to work.”

She graduated from Excelsior High School in 1929 and attended Fullerton Junior College. In 1937, she graduated cum laude from University of Southern California.

She then accepted a position teaching high school in Whittier, California. While there she met a young lawyer, Richard Nixon, when both were appearing in the community theater.

Known as Dick, he asked Pat Ryan to marry him the first night they went out. “I thought he was nuts or something!” she recalled. He courted the redhead he called his “wild Irish Gypsy” for two years, even driving her to and from her dates with other men.

The two were married on June 21, 1940. In 1946, their daughter Tricia was born, followed by a second daughter, Julie, in 1948.

Richard Nixon family

Pat was not always crazy about being in the public limelight, but supported her husband’s ambitions and helped him campaign.

The Nixon family made their first National TV appearance in 1952.

While Richard Nixon was Vice President to President Dwight Eisenhower, Pat accompanied him abroad on visits to 53 nations.

“Pat Nixon was named Outstanding Homemaker of the Year (1953), Mother of the Year (1955), and the Nation’s Ideal Housewife (1957), and once admitted that she pressed all of her husband’s suits one evening. “Of course, I didn’t have to,” she told The New York Times, “But when I don’t have work to do, I just think up some new project.””

In 1969, she became First Lady. “Pat Nixon felt that the First Lady should always set a public example of high virtue as a symbol of dignity, but she refused to revel in the trappings of the position.” She decided to continue what she called “personal diplomacy”, which meant traveling and visiting people in other states or other nations.

During her time as First Lady, she encouraged people to volunteer.

Pat Nixon

She built on Jacqueline Kennedy‘s efforts to add artifacts to the White House. She worked to have the exterior lights installed and insisted the flag be flown at all times at the White House.

Her daughter Julie Eisenhower reflected, “she invited so many groups to the White House to give them recognition, not famous ones, but little known organizations…”

She opened the White House for evening tours so that the public could see the interior design work that had been implemented.

She also instituted performances at the White House. In 1972, she became the first Republican First Lady to address a national convention.

Up until that time she held the record for most-traveled First Lady.

After President Nixon told his family he would resign the office of the presidency, she replied, “But why?” She began overseeing the packing of the White House.

Richard and Pat Nixon

Pat Nixon later told her daughter Julie, “Watergate is the only crisis that ever got me down … And I know I will never live to see the vindication.”

The Nixon’s returned to the California home in 1974, when Richard Nixon left office. Pat Nixon rarely appeared in public after that.

On July 7, 1976, she suffered a stroke leaving her left side paralyzed. With the help of physical therapy, she was able to regain movement.

In 1979, the family moved to New York City.

In 1991, the Nixon’s moved to Park Ridge, New Jersey.

She died on June 22, 1993 at their New Jersey home. This was just one day after celebrating her 53rd wedding anniversary.

She is buried at the Nixon library.

Her gravestone reads, “Even when people can’t speak your language, they can tell if you have love in your heart.”


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