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Dick’s New Old Friend

June 2024
1min read

One day in the fall of 1954, I was waiting to meet an old friend in the reception area at the National Press Club in Washington when I noticed a flurry of activity. It seemed clear that an important person had arrived at the club, and I soon discovered that it was the Vice President and an entourage of Secret Service men and White House staffers. Before I realized it, Mr. Nixon came bearing down on me, flashing a campaign smile and offering a friendly greeting. Though I was certain we had never met before, I got to my feet hesitantly and replied in kind.

Though I was certain I had never met the Vice President before, I got to my feet hesitantly and replied in kind.

What ensued was one of those aimless conversations that people sometimes have. Some phrases come back to me even though they were far from memorable: “Didn’t know you were in town.” “You’re looking well.” “Let me know when you’re next in Washington.” “Remember me home.” So saying, Mr. Nixon pumped my hand vigorously and headed off to the dining room.

I was completely mystified by the encounter, and when I told my luncheon companion—a veteran journalist—about it, he offered two possible scenarios. “The first,” he said, “is that he mistook you for a Republican politician who might do him some good. Maybe he didn’t know you, but you look like an old pol, and he probably didn’t want to take the chance of offending you.

“On the other hand,” my friend concluded, saving the better for last, “maybe Nixon is programmed to lunch every Tuesday at the National Press Club, to march straight up to the chair in which you were sitting, and to chat up the occupant much the way he addressed you.”

I have dined out on this story for years, and when I ask people how they explain my encounter with Richard Nixon, they invariably opt for the second scenario. So do I, since I don’t think I look like a Republican politician.

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