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Richard Nixon: The gushy, romantic side of 'Tricky Dick' (+video)

Richard Nixon's love letters to Patricia Ryan showed a romantic young man. The letters from 1938, reveal Nixon, the 37th US president, as idealistic, poetic.

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The romantic touch and chivalry that Nixon brought to his seaside proposal comes through in the letters, as well.

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In two of the handwritten notes, Nixon — raised a Quaker — uses "thee" instead of "you" to refer to his future bride, a pronoun that signals a special closeness in the Quaker tradition. He also writes about himself in the third person, referring to himself as a "prosaic person" whose heart was nonetheless "filled with that grand poetic music" upon knowing her.

"Somehow on Tuesday there was something electric in the usually almost stifling air in Whittier. And now I know. An Irish gypsy who radiates all that is happy and beautiful was there. She left behind her a note addressed to a struggling barrister who looks from a window and dreams. And in that note he found sunshine and flowers, and a great spirit which only great ladies can inspire," Nixon wrote. "Someday let me see you again? In September? Maybe?"

A much more practical — and somewhat less impulsive — Pat Ryan replies in one short note: "In case I don't see you before why don't you come early Wednesday (6) — and I'll see if I can burn a hamburger for you." The object of Nixon's affection was slower to come around, but eventually was just as smitten with Nixon as he was with her, said Ed Nixon, Nixon's youngest brother, in a phone interview from his Seattle home.

"She was quite an independent young lady and she was very cautious about anyone she met and if they couldn't smile, she wouldn't want to do too much unless she could make them smile. That captured Dick's imagination," the younger Nixon said. "She was challenging. She challenged me and I think she challenged Dick."

Nixon's presidency began to unravel in 1972 when burglars who were later tied to his re-election committee broke into the Democratic headquarters to get dirt on his political adversaries. Nixon denied knowing about plans for the break-in beforehand, but an 18 1/2 minute gap in a recording of a post-Watergate White House meeting led many to suspect a cover-up.

Faced with impeachment and a possible criminal indictment, Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974 and retreated to his native California. The following month he was granted a pardon by President Gerald Ford.

Pat Nixon never doubted her husband and stood by him until she died in 1993, a day after their 53rd wedding anniversary, said Robert Bostock, a consultant to the Richard Nixon Foundation, which is co-sponsoring the exhibit, and a former aide to Nixon after he left the White House.

Her loyalty and spirit was a testament to their love and part of what bound them together from the earliest days of their courtship in Whittier, when he was a young attorney and she a high school stenography teacher fresh out of college.

"She was with him the whole way; she never lost faith in him. Her feeling was that it was the country's loss when he had to resign, that he had accomplished so much good and had so much more good to accomplish," Bostock said. "Her favorite saying was, 'Onward and upward.' She spent no time looking back. She was always looking forward."

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