A Nixon spokesman said the former president and their two daughters, Julie and Tricia, were at her bedside. It was the day after the 53rd anniversary of a marriage which had seen triumph and then disaster without precedent, whose supreme trial was Watergate and the humiliating exit from the White House that August day of 1974.
Yesterday, however, all mention of disgrace was put aside, as tributes flowed in to a woman of universally acknowledged fortitude. 'She was an extraordinarily supportive First Lady,' said Henry Kissinger, to whom, as Secretary of State, Mr Nixon addressed his letter of resignation. On the floor of the Senate, Mark Hatfield of Oregon spoke of a 'very gallant lady' who was 'a soldier, a partner in the fullest meaning of that word'.
For all the fame thrust upon her, Pat Nixon was a remarkably private figure. The role of political wife was a duty to be endured, not enjoyed. Her habits were modest, her priority her family. In the White House she was perhaps the last of the traditional First Ladies, a self-effacing hostess who never intruded in public debate.
That Julie and her sister Tricia came through the Watergate ordeal relatively unscathed, Mr Nixon attributed to the 'strength and serenity of their mother. They couldn't have done it without her.'
But the price she paid ultimately proved fatal. After reading The Final Days, Carl Bernstein's and Bob Woodward's account of the end of the Nixon presidency, which among other things portrayed her as a heavy drinker, she had a stroke and never properly recovered. In 1983 came a second stroke, then emphysema and finally the lung cancer which killed her.
The burial is to be held on Saturday at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California.
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