The men and women of Watergate gathered for a black-tie dinner at the Washington Marriott Hotel last night, a few blocks and one decade from the White House that still unites them. "It feels wonderful," said Rose Mary Woods, who was secretary to former president Richard Nixon, "I'm proud of every moment I ever was associated with Richard Nixon and I always will be. He was one of the greatest presidents we ever had."
Nixon attended the dinner, standing in a long receiving line and shaking 160 hands. He would not speak with reporters.
But the rest of the crowd was more than willing, reminiscing about the good old days at the White House and on the advance trail.
The reunion was organized by four former members of the White House advance team as an entire weekend of activities.
The dinner was the highlight, and so they invited the key staffers who became the familiar names of Watergate.
Among those who came were former attorney general John N. Mitchell, aides Patrick Buchanan, Dwight Chapin, Stephen Bull, Egil (Bud) Krogh Jr., and Ron Ziegler, the former press secretary.
"I don't think Watergate is ever really put behind any of us," said Ziegler. "It occurred. It's a fact. But some of the duplicity of the period is past, some of the hypocrisy of the period is past. People are now beginning to put it in a different light."
The dinner was held on the heels of the 10th anniversary of Nixon's reelection. A large sign in the Marriott's ballroom said, "Welcome Class of '72." There were red, white and blue balloons and a huge inaugural seal decorating the room, as well as campaign pictures of Nixon and his wife, Pat, displayed in the cocktail area.
Reporters were roped off in a small section of the cocktail area, but as the evening progressed, the barricades came down and reporters roamed, asking questions. Some of the Watergate people were in good spirits and willing to talk; others, like Mitchell, would say only, "I have lots of thoughts." Then he moved on.
John W. Dean III, White House counsel during the Nixon administration, was not invited. "I'm delighted I wasn't invited to the Nixon dinner," he said in a statement released through his public relations firm in Los Angeles. "I'm just surprised the school for scoundrels would hold a class reunion."
Dean provided key testimony against Nixon during hearings before the Senate Watergate committee.
The members of the advance team who had organized the party tried to downplay its inevitable Watergate aspects. "Watergate had nothing to do with it," said Karen Hart, who works at the White House now and once worked in Richard Nixon's advance office. "This whole year was before Watergate."
Towering among the guests was Ed Nixon, Nixon's younger brother. "There's an awful lot of people in this country and the rest of the world that agree with us," he said. And then, to reporters: "Keep an eye on the rest of the world -- not just us."
Ed Nixon, reflecting on his brother, added, "He was an amazing inspiration. It's a shame things turned out the way they did . . . . Writing has done a great deal for him. For anybody who's had the experience of the sort he's gone through, you reflect. And once it's written down, you don't have to look at it anymore."
The dinner began around 9 p.m. Ron Walker, the chief of the Nixon advance office and the main organizer of the event, began with a toast to the former president. In a line borrowed from Leonard Hall, the national GOP chairman under Eisenhower, Nixon responded: "Here's to us--good men are few."
Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger arrived at 10:30 p.m. saying that he'd been at another function. "These were associates of mine," he said, "I want to pay my respects."
Other former members of the Nixon administration who came included: Gordon C. Strachan, former assistant to White House chief of staff H.R. (Bob) Haldeman; Charles W. Colson, a former Nixon aide; and Frederick V. Malek, former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.
A few members of the current administration showed up as well, including cabinet secretary Craig Fuller, Lawrence Kudlow of OMB, Mort Allin from the White House Press Office. Allin was national director of "Youth for Nixon" in 1967 and 1968. "Always a Nixon-Reagan man," he said. "No conflict, no problem at all."
Although many of the guests were reminiscing, at least one insisted he didn't miss the old days. Ziegler, now president of the National Association of Truckstop Operators, was asked if he missed the White House.
He replied: "There's nothing more exciting than a truckstop."