A room full of people whose names used to make news gathered in reunion last night to greet the man who made them famous -- or, in some cases, notorious.
More than 200 former officials of the Nixon administration, including Rose Mary Woods, Dwight Chapin and Pat Buchanan, got together in a Mayflower Hotel reception hall to offer a rousing cheering welcome to the former presidnt, who came down from New York City for 75 minutes of cocktails and conversation with his old associates.
It was Nixon's first visit here since he came to town for Hubert Humphrey's memorial service 11 months ago. Immediately after the party, he flew back to Manhattan in a private plane loaned him by his close friend Robert Abplanalp, the aerosol magnate.
Nixon spent most of his time shaking hands and trading war stories about the White House years, but just before he left he stepped up to a microphone to offer the assemblage a few minutes of philosophy ("The important thing is not that you win or lose, but that you don't quit") and a preview of his new book.
The book, Nixon said, should be finished next year, and will provide "an analysis of the world situation," together with "a strategy for peace and freedom for the balance of the century."
He said it was "really great" to see the people from Mrs. Nixon's office who had shown up. His wife would have been there, he said, but she was Christmas shopping in New York, and when she's Christmas shopping "it's best for me to get out of town."
The former president, looking grayer and thinner than when he appeared in televised interviews last year, was visibly cheered by the large turnout of former aides and the warm reception they gave him.
On his arrival at the hotel, he was met by a single protester, who shouted a single "Boo," and a horde of reporters, who shouted a host of questions.
Nixon told the reporters that he is still a fan of the Washington Redskins, that he misses them the most, and that he is rooting for them to squeeze into the playoffs. He said he was surprised that so many of the former White House secretaries who came to the reception were still single. "I'm afraid Washington isn't a very good place for a pretty single girl."
Last night's party was one of a series held over the past three years by the February Group, an alliance of old Nixonites who got together for a reunion in February of 1975 and had so much fun they have never stopped. Since Nixon was in New York on the way home from last week's trip to Europe, they asked him to join them.
The names on the guest list were guaranteed to bring back memories for connoisseurs of Watergate books.
Although some of the most famous Watergaters could not attend -- former Attorney General John Mitchell and former White House aide H.R. Haldeman are still in prison, and others are in seclusion -- a number of people who rode Nixon's ship to the end were present.
There was Rose Mary Woods, the former president's longtime personal secretary, and Charles Rhyne, the old Nixon law school chum who represented Woods when she seemed likely to get the blame for the famous 18-minute tape gap.
There was Dwight Chapin, the White House appointments secretary who served eight months in prison for lying to a grand jury. And there was John McLaughlin, the Jesuit who was known as the "Wategate Priest" during his tenure on the White House staff. McLaughlin came without his clerical collar but with his wife, having given up the former to marry the latter.
Others in attendance included speechwriter Patrick Buchanan, press aides Mort Allin, Bill Rhatican and Bruce Whelikan, author Victor Lasky, lobbyist Max Friedersdorf, economic adviser Herbert Stein, and the former president's favorite barber, Milt Pitts.
The reception had the air of a friendly class reunion, with former colleagues sharing "long-time-no-see" greetings and exchanging business cards for the law firms, corporations, brokerage houses, and public relations offices where they now work.
To make the nostalgia complete, the party-goers were greeted in the hotel by Dick Tuck, the political prank player, who said he simply could not resist hanging around any function that Richard Nixon planned to attend.
The party-goers seemed genuinely happy to see their ex-employer. They laughed heartily at all his jokes and gave him loud and long ovations when he entered the room and when he stood up to speak.
"It was just great to see him," said Hugh Cannon, a former Treasury Department official. "Everybody had a lot of fun, and it made it even better to have the president here."
Buchanan said Nixon obviously had had a good time."I think he stayed a lot longer than he planned to."