Childhood & Early Life
Thelma Catherine Ryan (later Pat Nixon) was born on 16th March 1912, in the small town of Ely in Nevada, to William M. Ryan Sr. and Katherine Halberstadt.
Her father held many jobs like a sailor, a gold miner, and a truck farmer, and was of Irish origin. He died in May 1930 in Artesia, California. Her mother Katherine "Kate" Halberstadt was born in Essen County, near Frankfurt in Germany, in 1879. William Ryan Sr. was her second husband. She died of cancer on 18 January 1926, in Artesia, California.
After she was born, the Ryans moved to California and lived in a small truck farm in Artesia, which is modern-day Cerritos. Her high school yearbook shows that her nickname was "Buddy," and she aimed to operate a boarding house.
Her father called her "Pat" because she was born the day before Saint Patrick's Day and also because of her Irish ancestry. After joining college in 1931, she stopped using her given name Thelma, and called herself Pat and sometimes spelled it “Patricia.”
She started working from an early age because she was only 12 years old when her mother passed away. She helped out her father on the family farm and also worked as a bookkeeper and janitor in a local bank.
She took care of all the household activities for her father, who died of silicosis five years after her mother’s death. She had two older brothers, William Jr. Ryan and Thomas Ryan, and a half-sister Neva Bender and a half-brother Matthew Bender, from her mother's previous marriage.
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Pat Nixon came from humble beginnings and rose to political fame and stature after her marriage. Once when she was interviewed, she said that she never had time to think or dream about what and who she wanted to become because she was always working from a young age.
She attended the Excelsior High School and graduated in 1929. She enrolled in Fullerton College and paid for it by working odd part-time jobs, sometimes as a driver, a telephone operator, a typist, and a pharmacy manager. She also lived in New York while working as a radiographer and assistant.
She resolved to make a name for herself and joined the University of Southern California and studied merchandising. Her former professor mentioned that she was different and always stood out from the crowd.
As money was tight, she had several part-time jobs. She taught shorthand and touch typing at a high school. She was also a salesperson in Bullock's-Wilshire department store.
She graduated 'cum laude' with a Bachelor of Science degree in merchandising along with a teaching degree which was at par with a master's degree. She started working as a high school teacher in Whittier, California.
Pat met Richard Nixon in Whittier while they were both part of a theater group and were cast together in the play 'The Dark Tower.' Richard was then a young lawyer who had recently graduated from Duke University School of Law.
He courted her for two years, and they eventually married on 21st June 1940, at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California. They honeymooned in Mexico briefly and moved into a small apartment in Whittier.
As U.S. became involved in World War II, they moved to Washington, D.C. Richard took office as a lawyer in the Office of Price Administration, and Pat began working as an assistant for the American Red Cross. Soon, Richard joined the navy and was stationed in California while pat joined the Office of Price Administration as an economic analyst.
She campaigned for Nixon in 1946 when he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the same year, their first daughter Patricia was born, commonly known as Tricia. After two years, in 1948, Julie, their second and last daughter, was born.
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She was an important part of his campaign and researched his political adversary Jerry Voorhis. She also composed the literature for his campaign and even distributed it.
Richard Nixon's life was changing swiftly, and in six years, he went from being a member of U.S. House of Representatives to a member of the U.S. Senate. He eventually became the U.S. Vice President.
She was at her husband's side through all his political campaigns. She was keen on attending interviews, outdoor rallies, fundraising dinners or teas, and all the public appearances that were now an important part of her life. She sometimes also gave informal speeches.
She once had mentioned that even though she did not like the political realm, mainly the intrusion in their private life, she was extremely loyal to Nixon.
She had various roles as the wife of the vice president for eight years. She travelled to 53 countries with her husband, and because of her charming and inspiring personality, the then-President Eisenhower often sent them together as goodwill ambassadors to foreign countries.
Pat Nixon became the First Lady of US in 1969 when her husband took office as the President of US and remained so till 1974. She became a symbol of dignity as the First Lady. At the same time, she did not want to be burdened with the powers of the position. She wanted to move with the "personal diplomacy" rule wherein she would travel and visit people from other nations and states.
As the First Lady, she took up an initiative known as' volunteerism.' She encouraged people to address social issues locally and volunteer at hospitals, rehabilitation centers and civic organizations
She once visited ten different volunteer programs as part of her "Vest Pockets for Volunteerism" trip. Susan Porter, who was the First Lady's scheduling in charge, noted that Pat "saw volunteers as unsung heroes who hadn't been encouraged or given credit for their sacrifices and who needed to be."
She travelled 4,130 miles within the United States in her second volunteerism tour wherein she aided in spreading the idea that all students were not protesting the Vietnam War.
She also was a part of numerous volunteer groups like 'Women in Community Services' and 'Urban Services League.' She advocated for the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, a bill that proposed volunteerism and provided benefits for volunteer organizations.
Family & Personal life
Pat Nixon was an admirable First Lady and also a loyal wife and mother. Reporter Helen Thomas noted that the Nixons "moved through life ritualistically" in public but were very close in private. Richard Nixon was said to be sentimental, often encouraging and admiring Pat for her works and surprising her with gifts.
She always wanted to keep her children sheltered from the media and constant scrutiny, and thus maintained a very private life.
After leaving the White House, they moved into a house called 'La Casa Pacifica' in San Clemente, California. She was barely seen in public and gave interviews to the media only occasionally.
In 1976, Pat suffered a stroke following which her left side was entirely paralyzed. Eventually, she regained all her movement through rigorous physical therapy. They then moved to Manhattan briefly before settling in Saddle River, New Jersey, to be close to their children and grandchildren.
Her health was deteriorating and she suffered from two lung infections and another stroke. The couple eventually moved to a gated community in Park Ridge, New Jersey, in 1991. She was frail and was diagnosed with oral cancer, emphysema, and, ultimately, lung cancer.
Pat Nixon died on 22nd June 1993, at the age of 81 in her Park Ridge home while being surrounded by her husband and two daughters. The funeral service was held on 26th June 1993 in the Richard Nixon Library grounds, where many people gathered to pay homage to her.
Her tombstone reads, "Even when people can't speak your language, they can tell if you have love in your heart."