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  •   Charles `Bebe' Rebozo, 85, Dies

    By Richard Pearson
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, May 10, 1998; Page B08

    Charles G. "Bebe" Rebozo, 85, the son of Cuban immigrants who became a successful and largely unassuming Florida banker and businessman but gained world fame for his 44-year friendship with Richard M. Nixon, died of a brain aneurysm May 8 at a hospital in Miami. He lived in Key Biscayne, Fla.

    He was a close friend, boon travel companion and personal confidant -- though not a political or policy adviser -- of Nixon's. The two men met in 1950, shortly after Nixon, then a Republican representative from California, won election to the Senate. By all accounts, they remained close friends until Nixon's death in 1994.

    Mr. Rebozo and Nixon golfed, swam and boated together. Nixon's winter White House, in Key Biscayne, was near the Rebozo home.

    Even as president, Nixon often visited and relaxed at the Rebozo home. It was on just such a visit in June 1972, according to an account Mr. Rebozo later gave, that Nixon first learned of the Watergate break-in. Five men, working for the Nixon campaign, had been arrested breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office building.

    In a 1990 interview with the Miami Herald, Mr. Rebozo recalled the circumstances in which Nixon was informed of the break-in.

    "We were swimming at Key Biscayne in front of my house. They came out and told him. He said, `What in God's name were they doing there?' "

    Then, Rebozo recalled, "we laughed and forgot about it."

    As the scandals that became known collectively as Watergate widened and deepened, ultimately destroying the Nixon presidency, Mr. Rebozo remained an unwavering champion and frequent companion of the embattled president.

    He was with Nixon the night the president finally decided to resign his office, which he did Aug. 9, 1974.

    The men remained fast friends after Nixon left office. Mr. Rebozo continued to defend his friend, though he himself was not untouched by the scandals. He was investigated by a congressional committee for accepting a $100,000 cash donation from the mysterious industrialist Howard Hughes for a Nixon campaign.

    Mr. Rebozo also took the offensive against what he felt were unfair Nixon critics, especially in the media. In 1978, he unsuccessfully sued The Washington Post for libel.

    Mr. Rebozo was born the youngest of nine children in Tampa and grew up in Miami. His father, a Cuban immigrant, worked as a cigar maker. The son took something of a classic Horatio Alger route, working at and then owning gas stations and other businesses before becoming a prominent local banker.

    He met Nixon through another congressman who also won election to the Senate in 1950, George Smathers (D-Fla.).

    Nixon and Smathers were members of a famed group of men, mostly World War II veterans, who made the first real successful step in their political careers by winning election to the House of Representatives in 1946. In addition to Smathers and Nixon, those included future presidents John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Gerald R. Ford (R-Mich.).

    The young congressmen maintained friendships that crossed party and ideological lines, so perhaps it was natural that an exhausted Nixon in 1950 asked Smathers for advice on where he could get some sun and recover from a nagging virus.

    Smathers, a close friend of Kennedy's, was just the man for the hard-working congressman to ask for vacation advice. He recommended that Nixon seek out the Key Biscayne Hotel and Club and that the Californian look up a close friend of Smathers's, an ebullient local known as "Bebe" by one and all.

    Mr. Rebozo and the future president did not hit it off at first. Mr. Rebozo took Nixon deep-sea fishing on his 33-foot ChrisCraft. But, it turned out, Nixon just did not like to fish. Mr. Rebozo reported to Smathers that Nixon could not bring himself to kill anything and that the trip was a bust.

    But a friendship was born. In 1964, Mr. Rebozo chartered his spanking new Key Biscayne Bank. Nixon, who was practicing law on Wall Street, came to Florida to operate the ceremonial shovel at the bank's groundbreaking, then proudly became the bank's first depositor.

    After Nixon was elected president in 1968, he cashed in his stocks and bonds, depositing the receipts in a savings account in his friend's bank. After Nixon left the presidency and seemed in some economic straights, Mr. Rebozo and his bank came to Nixon's aid in business ventures.

    Mr. Rebozo remained a true friend until the very end. He said in the Miami Herald interview that the president was "everything they say he's not. He's a very sensitive man, very thoughtful and, of course, very brilliant."

    Mr. Rebozo's survivors include his wife, Jane Lucke Rebozo of Key Biscayne, and a sister.


    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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