Obituary: Bebe Rebozo

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The Independent Online
IN ALL aspects bar one, Bebe Rebozo's life was a straightforward tale of poor boy made good.

He was born in 1912 the ninth and youngest child of an immigrant Cuban cigar-maker. He worked his way up the business ladder; from petrol-station clerk to petrol-station owner, and then prominent Florida banker, and pillar of the local community, who served as chairman of the Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce, and in 1976 as commodore of the Key Biscayne Yacht Club. By American standards, pretty routine stuff. What singled Rebozo out was a friendship that lasted more than half a life.

He met Richard Nixon in 1950, the year the future President was first elected to the Senate. For whatever reason, the complex, ambitious, yet deeply insecure young politician and the unassuming and down-to-earth Cuban-American would become soul mates. In the rise, fall and rise again of Richard Nixon, Rebozo was one of the few constants.

In good times as well as bad - in Washington, at the presidential retreat of Camp David, at the "winter White House" in Key Biscayne, on the presidential yacht Sequoia - he was crony, confidant and drinking partner to the man he would until the end of his life address as "Mr President". Nixon was a political chameleon who could adopt a dozen personalities but, as his former aide Bill Safire would write, "When he didn't want to be anyone but himself, he called for Bebe Rebozo."

If friendship is forged in adversity, nothing sealed this one as Watergate. Though he was never a political or policy adviser in any formal sense, Rebozo's sheer proximity to Nixon made him a target of investigators. He was questioned by Sam Ervin's Senate Select Committee, for having accepted a cash contribution of $100,000 to the Nixon campaign from the legendary Howard Hughes, but no wrongdoing was ever proven. Quietly, Rebozo would raise money to help meet the legal expenses of close Nixon retainers like John Erlichman. Never, even in the darkest days, did his loyalty waver.

Few days were darker than 1 August 1974. The Supreme Court had forced Nixon to hand over the "smoking gun" Watergate tapes and, two days earlier, the House Judiciary Committee had voted the first two articles of impeachment. Rebozo flew up from Miami to Washington to join Nixon, and at 7pm that evening the two men boarded the Sequoia.

As they cruised the Potomac river, Nixon told him he had decided to resign. "You can't do it," Rebozo replied. "You have got to continue to fight. You just don't know how many people are still for you." But ultimately even the unbreakably loyal Rebozo was persuaded there was no alternative. Exactly a week later, facing certain impeachment, the 37th President stepped down.

If anything, in the bleak aftermath of disgrace, Rebozo's friendship became more valuable still. Nothing cheered Nixon up more than his presence at a surprise 62nd birthday party organised by his wife Pat at San Clemente on 9 January 1975, where the former President was moved to insist the assembled company feast on caviar given him by the Shah of Iran.

A few years later, the public "rehabilitation" of Richard Nixon began. But for Bebe Rebozo, right until the former President's death in 1994, no rehabilitation was ever necessary.

Charles Gregory ("Bebe") Rebozo: banker and businessman: born Tampa, Florida 17 November 1912; married; died Miami, Florida 8 May 1998.