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Eulogy for Richard Nixon
Given by Governor Pete Wilson
Richard Nixon has a beautiful family, and he was devoted to them. Anyone who ever saw them together knew his beloved Pat and his girls, Tricia and Julie, were everything to him. He was so proud of them, of his sons-in-law, Edward and David, and his grandchildren. But he also had a much larger extended family, a family of those who worked for him and with him, and I was and am very lucky to be a part of that family.
I was one of the many young men and women in whom he inspired the same fierce loyalty that he gave to us. From the first, I was struck by the quality of his personal generosity. When we met in 1962, he'd already debated Khrushchev and President Kennedy; he'd already run for President; he had been a major political figure on the world stage. But still he had time to talk to and to help an eager, young advance man who could offer him little but energy and enthusiasm.
Then, in the fall of 1965, when I was 32, he honored me by asking me to come to work with him on his potential bid for the Presidency in 1968. But he'd heard from Bob Finch and Herb Klein that I was thinking about running for office myself. I told him it was true, and he grinned. He grinned and he said in that deep, rich voice of his, "Is it a good district? Can you win?" And then he said, "Because if you can, then Pete, you've got to try or you'll never forgive yourself." I was just another young lawyer trying to find his way in the world, and he was a former Vice President preparing a bid for the highest office in the land. And yet that day, he was as concerned with my future as he was with his own.
Time and again, not just with me, but with many others, he was always there, willing to share his insight and his experience, and no American in this century had more of either to share.
It is hard to imagine a world without Richard Nixon. For half a century he played a leading role in shaping the events that have shaped our lives. It is not just that he served for three decades in high office; it is not just that he garnered more votes than any candidate in American history. It was because his intellect, his insight and his indomitable will could not be ignored. He moved on the world stage, he voiced bold ideas, and he left global footprints.
But for all his mastery of global strategy, it was right here in this small house in this little town in Orange County that Richard Nixon learned and never forgot the values that shaped him and helped him shape our world. He learned the value of hard work. He learned that to make important changes you must take risks. And he learned the Quaker virtue that if you were born with a good mind and good health, you were obliged to help others, to give back to your community.
But he had something more, much more. When most people think of Richard Nixon, they think of his towering intellect, the incisive quality of his mind. Well, I will always remember him for another quality. It is the quality that great fighters have. They call it heart. Heart is what let Richard Nixon climb back into the ring time and again when almost anyone else would have thrown in the towel.
It was his heart that taught us the great lesson of Richard Nixon's life to never, ever give up. To him, it was no disgrace to fight and be beaten. The only disgrace was to quit, and he never did. Like this Golden State that bred and shaped him, he knew adversity was a challenge to overcome. He loved returning to California, and he shared California's optimism. And as he saw the state he loved facing the harshest economic times since the Great Depression, his message to us was, "Keep walking, keep working, and keep fighting, and you'll come back better than before."
The world will remember Richard Nixon rightly as a fighter of iron will, but the greatness of a man can sometimes be best measured by the times and the reasons that he chooses not to fight.
In 1960 many urged Richard Nixon to contest one of the closest and most controversial elections in American history. But Richard Nixon said no, he would not go to court. He refused to fight and he urged others not to on his behalf. He would relinquish the prize that was his life's ambition. Why? For a simple, but these days remarkable, reason. It was because he so loved his country that he refused to risk it being torn apart by the constitutional crisis that might ensue.
Forgive my parochial pride, but in this modest home just a few feet from this stand was bred a grocer's son and a great American, with deep love for his country, with limitless courage, and above all with the faith and the brimming spirit and energy that creates only a handful of great leaders from among the tens of millions of their fellow citizens. Dick Nixon's heart, shaped by the grit and mores of this small town, never left California, and now we return it to the soil that bred him.
He ended his own eulogy to Everett Dirksen with a favorite quotation from the poet Sophocles: "One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been." And in Richard Nixon's evening, his light burned bright with open and wise prescriptions for American and for the world. Today, as we take him to rest, as we seek to measure the greatness of the man and his legacy, it is clear how truly splendid Richard Nixon's day has been.
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