Mary Livingston; Spotted Illegal Nixon Tax Move

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mary Walton McCandlish Livingston, 92, a federal archivist whose testimony before Congress revealed that President Richard M. Nixon's donated papers were improperly backdated, died March 23 at Goodwin House in Alexandria. She had Alzheimer's disease.

Mrs. Livingston, a senior archivist in the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives for 30 years, supervised work on Nixon's early papers. In March 1970, while working with a manuscript dealer chosen by Nixon, she selected 1,176 boxes of personal papers that the president intended to donate to the nation.

A change in federal tax law would have prevented Nixon from taking a deduction for the donation. But the dealer prepared an affidavit that said Nixon donated his vice presidential papers a year earlier than he actually did, which gave the president a $450,000 tax break.

Public indignation at Nixon's nonpayment of federal taxes led to a hearing before the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation. Mrs. Livingston testified that the president could not have donated the papers in 1969 because the dealer asked her to select the papers a year later.

Newspaperwoman Mary McGrory's Page One column in the old Washington Star-News dubbed Mrs. Livingston "A Proper Civil Servant."

McGrory called her "a heroine . . . a woman of conscience who cannot be stampeded of out of channels by the mention of the White House." The dealer aroused her suspicions from the start, Mrs. Livingston told the committee, when he wanted her to keep their interaction from her supervisor. She promptly filed a memo to her boss.

Three years later, when a newspaper story mentioned Nixon's tax deductions, she wrote another memo, suggesting that investigators seek out the original deed of donation. Her testimony before Congress resulted in a 1974 ruling that the deduction was improper. She was also an important witness in the 1975 fraud trial of the manuscript dealer, who was convicted.

Mrs. Livingston received an award from the Society of American Archivists for her "conscientious performance of duty."

The incident was but a snippet in the long life of Mrs. Livingston, who served as "a moral compass" for her family, one daughter said. She was born in Fairfax in 1914, part of a family that had been in Virginia for generations.

Her grandfather Robert McCandlish was in the Confederate artillery at Gettysburg, and her great-grandfather Thomas Moore was with the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia until he was paroled at Appomattox. Her uncle R. Walton Moore, a Democratic congressman from Virginia from 1919 to 1931, was a proponent of commercial aviation and took her on a demonstration flight with Charles Lindbergh soon after his 1927 transatlantic flight.

Mrs. Livingston graduated from the National Cathedral School in Washington after obtaining most of her previous schooling in Fairfax County public schools. She graduated from Sweet Briar College and returned to Fairfax to work for the county's Chamber of Commerce. She became president of the local chapter of the Business and Professional Women's Club at age 23.

One of the club's speakers, Virginia Durr, an activist and organizer in the civil rights movement, introduced Mrs. Livingston to her future husband. She married in 1939 and left her National Archives job to raise her children and become active in community fundraising and civil rights work. The Fairfax branch of the NAACP gave her a certificate in 1951 for her efforts on behalf of equal education for African American students. She worked on biracial church and PTA groups to keep the public schools operating during the period of "massive resistance" to court-ordered desegregation in the late 1950s.

In 1962, she returned to the National Archives to work on oral histories from the Johnson administration and to organize other presidential libraries. Later, she worked on authenticating the claims of Japanese internees after they were awarded reparations by the federal government in 1988.

Mrs. Livingston was a founding member of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, where she was a Sunday school superintendent and teacher for many years. She was an enthusiastic tennis player into her 80s, and her New Year's Eve parties drew hundreds.

Her husband, S. William Livingston, died in 1979.

Survivors include three children, S. William Livingston Jr. of Alexandria, Mary Petersen of Fairfax and Elizabeth Useem of Merion Station, Pa.; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

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