Main Content

Born Thelma Catherine Ryan on March 16, 1912, in Ely, Nevada, "Pat" Nixon acquired her nickname within hours. Her father called her his "St. Patrick's babe in the morn" when he came home from the mines before dawn.

Soon the family moved to California and settled on a small truck farm near Los Angeles - a life of hard work with few luxuries. When her mother died in 1925, 13-year-old Pat assumed household duties for her father and two older brothers. At 18, she lost her father after nursing him through months of illness. Determined to continue her education, she worked her way through the University of Southern California. She held part-time jobs on campus, as a sales clerk and as an extra in the movies, and she graduated cum laude in 1937. Pat met Richard Nixon after accepting a position as a high-school teacher in Whittier. They became acquainted at a Little Theater group when they were cast in the same play, and were married on June 21, 1940.

During World War II, she worked as a government economist while Richard served in the navy. She campaigned at his side in 1946 when he entered politics. Within six years she saw him elected to the vice presidency on the ticket with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Despite the demands of official life, the Nixons were devoted parents to their two daughters, Tricia and Julie. A tireless campaigner when her husband ran unsuccessfully for president in 1960, Pat was again at his side when he won in 1968.

Mrs. Nixon used her position as first lady to encourage volunteer service "the spirit of people helping people." She invited hundreds of families to nondenominational Sunday services in the East Room and instituted a series of performances by artists in varied American traditions. She took quiet pride in adding 600 paintings and antiques to the White House Collection.

Travels with her husband included the historic visit to the People's Republic of China and the summit meeting in the Soviet Union. Her first solo trip was a journey of compassion to take relief supplies to earthquake victims in Peru. Later, Pat visited Africa and South America with the unique diplomatic standing of personal representative of the president.

Mrs. Nixon met the troubled days of Watergate with dignity. "I love my husband," she said, "I believe in him, and I am proud of his accomplishments." She died at home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, on June 22, 1993. Her husband followed her in death ten months later. She and the former president are buried at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California.

You Might Also Like