He should have written a book.
Too bad he didn't, everyone agreed at the memorial service Saturday for Ronald L. Ziegler, the pugnacious press secretary to President Richard Nixon. Ziegler remained fiercely loyal, even after Nixon resigned in 1974 when threatened with impeachment in the shambles of the Watergate scandal.
"I sure wish he'd written the book," said Tim Elbourne, a former press assistant in the Nixon White House, at a reception for family and friends after the service at Christ Church in Alexandria. "He started it in San Diego, and did bits and pieces, but he just didn't go right at it."
"He died with his memories unshared," agreed talk show host John McLaughlin, a former Nixon speechwriter. The close personal "bonding" between Ziegler and Nixon, he said, "sustained the president in an anguishing time."
"I guess I gotta sit down and write the book on the old man," said Patrick Buchanan, another former Nixon speechwriter and later a presidential candidate himself. Buchanan added that Ziegler, who died Feb. 10 at age 63 after a heart attack, was "a good buddy, and it's very sad."
"The one man who could have written the best book about Nixon didn't," Nixon's national security adviser Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying by eulogist Gerald Heller, who'd worked with Ziegler in Ziegler's later role as president of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS).
Ziegler had given Kissinger's name as a reference when seeking the association job -- and the quote was part of Kissinger's response to the NACDS. Kissinger, who didn't attend the memorial service, had also praised Ziegler's "integrity."
Indeed, though Watergate led to jail time for 19 of Nixon's aides and hirelings -- and Nixon himself may have avoided the slammer only by virtue of being pardoned by his successor, President Gerald Ford -- almost all the Nixon-era figures who showed up Saturday weren't involved in criminal activity.
Former Nixon speechwriter William Safire, now a New York Times columnist, and former White House counsel Leonard Garment sat together at the service at Christ Church -- George Washington's church. No whiff of scandal around those guys.
For the most part, those who attended Saturday had been young second- or third-tier functionaries, enjoying the heady life in the White House fast lane until things started turning bad.
Naturally, they're a little sensitive.
Steve Bull, who'd been a personal aide to Nixon, confirmed that he'd been mentioned by former Nixon counsel John W. Dean III as possibly having been "Deep Throat," the secret informant who'd helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein unravel the Watergate scandal.
"Only dean's list I've ever been on!" Bull quipped to a reporter at the reception. "Now Odle here, he planned the break-ins."
Robert C. Odle Jr. just smiled. He's used to it. As a Nixon reelection official and later aide to the president, he was the first witness called at the Senate Watergate hearings.
No flies on these guys.
Others attending included: J. Bruce Whelihan, former aide to Ziegler and now a stockbroker; lawyer Henry C. Cashen II, former deputy to Charles W. Colson, special counsel to the president; and Gerald Warren, former Nixon deputy press secretary who later became editor of the San Diego Union.
On the other hand, Dwight Chapin, former Nixon appointments secretary who was also there Saturday, did jail time. Eight months.
"I'm not giving interviews," he said with a friendly smile. "I'm in business, a small company. And enjoying life."
Later, as Ziegler's friends came forward to share memories at the reception, Chapin recalled first meeting Ziegler during Hell Week at a fraternity rush party at the University of Southern California. He traced their "marvelous" friendship over the years.
Sandy Quinn, deputy director of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation, read aloud messages of condolence as Ziegler's widow, Nancy, mother Ruby, daughters Cindy Charas and Laurie Albright, and grandchildren listened.
President and Mrs. Bush sent "our sympathy . . . and prayers." There was a note from Nancy Reagan. Julie Nixon Eisenhower's message spoke of "political war." Former secretary of state and Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig's note called Ziegler "a patriot of unquestioned integrity."
Another missive, from former president Bill Clinton, called Ziegler "wise in the ways of Washington, and battle-scarred as I am."
An official from China read a message from Ambassador Yang Jiechi, praising Ziegler's "tireless work" in helping Nixon "bring about a new era" in U.S.-Chinese relations.
Indeed, the Nixon presidency was about more than Watergate.
"Remember those headlines that they show at the end of 'The Quiet American?' " said Viviane Warren, Gerald Warren's wife, speaking of the recently released film. "One of them said there were 495,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, and that's where we came into office."
John H. Taylor, executive director of the Nixon Library, summed it up in his eulogy, saying that as Nixon flew into exile after his resignation, "the troops and the prisoners of war had already come home from Vietnam.
"A new relationship with the Soviet Union presaged the beginning of the end of the Cold War. China had rejoined the family of nations. A peace process was in motion in the Mideast that would culminate a few years later in the Camp David accords. The schools in the Deep South had at last been desegregated."
And Ron Ziegler's life was about more than Watergate, too -- though he may long be remembered as the spokesman who called it a "third-rate burglary."
Ziegler was, Taylor said, a man of "loyalty with integrity . . . indispensable to the president. At no point did anyone accuse him of wrongdoing. . . . Indeed, President Nixon wanted nothing more than to be remembered as a peacemaker. Ron Ziegler will forever share that distinction."
"My dad loved his family," recalled his daughter, Cindy, weeping as she spoke. "He taught me to look a person in the eye. He taught me to come to a complete stop at stop signs."
"He was smart, generous and kind," said his other daughter, Laurie. "He taught me to broaden my worldview. He taught me there are many perspectives other than mine."
The Rev. Mark S. Anschutz, Ziegler's pastor and friend of many years, chose for the service readings from the 23rd Psalm ("Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies"), and this from the Book of Revelation:
"These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."