×
Home Politics Politics News

The Making of the President’s Daughter

The White House romance of Tricia Nixon and Edward Finch Cox

First Lady, Pat Nixon, President Richard Nixon, Tricia Nixon, Edward Cox

(L-R) First Lady Pat Nixon, President Richard Nixon, Tricia Nixon and Edward Cox at wedding reception at White House on June 12th, 1971.

National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty

“She is one of the pushiest society leaders in New York. She had been trying for 20 years to get her name in the paper.”

That was a Social Register listee talking about Mrs. Howard Elles Cox of New York, the former Anne Crewe Delafield Finch, descendent of the Schuylers and Van Rensselaers and American Revolutionary Robert Livingston.

By 1963 Mrs. Cox had climbed socially to the cochairmanship of the International Debutante Ball, a charity event held annually at the Astor Hotel in Times Square. And it was that year she arranged to have her daughter Mazie chosen official United States representative, the most important debutante at the Ball. To a lushly orchestrated “America the Beautiful,” Mazie performed her curtsy before WPIX television cameras and other debutantes from around the world who had paid to come out that night.

By 1964 Mrs. Cox had come up with an even more enterprising plan. She chose her own son, Princeton Freshman Edward Ridley Finch Cox, as an escort to the US representative. And she chose as the curtsying US representative a newcomer to the Eastern social parade, a reclusive blonde girl from California named Tricia Nixon.

* * *

TRICIA, ED MAY DECIDE TO ELOPE

WASHINGTON — Tricia Nixon and Edward Finch Cox are reported by friends to be on the verge of getting married much sooner than expected.

Both are distressed over publicity that has sprung up since they were reported to have picked June 14, Flag Day, for the ceremony.

Some friends say the couple has talked of “eloping.”

Others insist they want a “small, private, closed ceremony” at the White House with only a few attendants and close family friends as guests. This would take place without any advance announcement and at a time much sooner than June.
— Times Post Service

* * *

Six weeks after the invasion of Laos, President Richard Nixon of the United States held a gala affair in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and his wife Pat’s 59th birthday. Three hundred guests attended, among them “Bebe” Robozo, the President’s best friend; three Democratic senators whose names begin with “Me,” Robert Abplanalp, the aerosol king of Bronxville; the Howard Elles Coxes of New York; Irene “Granny” Ryan of the Beverly Hillbillies, and Fred McMurray, who looked mystified and said, “I don’t know why I’m here.”

The President arrived with fanfares, “Ruffles and Flourishes” and “Hail to the Chief,” and everybody stood up. When he took the platform some thought he was going to surprise them by announcing Tricia’s engagement — which movie magazines and gossip columnists had been announcing for months — but instead he introduced the program for the evening, an Irish pageant by the Shannon Castle Entertainers that ended with “Danny Boy” sung by an Irish tenor.

Finally, after dinner, the President took the platform again and said, “Mrs. Nixon and I are honored to announce the engagement of our daughter Tricia to Edward Cox of New York.” Everyone applauded. According to protocol, Eddie’s parents joined their son and beaming future in-laws on the platform. But the President forgot to introduce them.

* * *

The next day (March 17) Tricia, who calls herself the tiniest of the Nixons, conducted her first press conference since her father became President. Wearing a white wool dress and elaborate hair: piece, she sat in the recesses of a large green chair, her feet barely touching the floor. Members of the press wanted to hear what the White House “mystery princess” had to say.

“Eddie is my first and last love,” she told them, confiding, however, that “I have had several good friends in between.” She described her plans for an early June wedding. “We’d like it to be on the small side, with our family and close friends — sort of like last night.”

* * *

President Nixon has said he sees his daughters, Tricia and Julie, as frontline troops in the battle to reestablish the traditional virtues.

“Both Tricia and Julie are fortunate that they have the kind of figures that permits them to wear mini-skirts,” he remarked once during a cryptic lecture on fashion. “But women should not complain about the new longer lengths, because most don’t have the figures for the shorter ones. Don’t get me wrong! I appreciate a nice mini-skirt tripping down the Champs Elysees, or on the White House staff — there are plenty of minis here. “But my advice to the girls is: they shouldn’t feel sad at hems coming down.

To a man, there’s mystery in what’s hidden. One of the most unalluring things I see are the bikinis on the Florida Gold Coast. I don’t want to go back to the Bloomer Girls, just to cover up a bit more. But Oriental women, with their ao-dai slacks and their slit skirts, make a mistake in going to Western dress. Theirs is more feminine.”

(For her part, Tricia once said, “I don’t think I’m the miniskirt type.”)

On her 13th birthday Tricia and her classmate Peggy were treated by Mr. Nixon to a day at the races. FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover and his right hand G-man Clyde Tolson went along to help chaperone. “Of course,” Mr. Nixon assured the press, “the girls will not bet.”

But the President hardly wants Tricia to be a prude. He in fact considers her quite the opposite. In an article he wrote for Ladies Home Journal last June he said, “Tricia doesn’t drink or smoke. On the other hand, she has a great time: she swings.” She later proved it at her Masked Ball, described in the newspapers as a party “with grace and a little bit of soul.” She invited 431 guests, including Lynda and Chuck Robb, the Patrick Nugents, Richard Daley Jr., David and Julie Eisenhower, and Senator Eugene McCarthy’s daughter. Mother and Father Nixon were at home, but they stayed upstairs because it was a young people’s party.

“This is sort of like a big deb party,” said one guest, “or the Saturday night formal of a college weekend. It’s great!”

Tricia’s date for the evening was Barry Goldwater Jr., but by the end of the evening they were on opposite sides of the room. At one point, while they were dancing, he leaned down to press his cheek against hers and someone at the Washington Post heard the following exchange:

Barry: I think you’re beautiful.
Tricia: Thank you very much.
Barry: You have the prettiest blond hair I’ve ever seen.
Tricia: Thank you very much.
Barry: I’d sure like to show you California.
Tricia: I’ve seen California.

Music for the Masked Ball — which the party was supposed to be except nobody wore the masks handed out at the door — was provided by the Temptations (thus the soul) and the Turtles. In the receiving line, Tricia told the Turtles they were her favorite group. But apparently she was not their favorite groupie.

“She was wearing organdy and stuff,” lead singer Howie Kaylan remembered later. “She rustled when she walked by like a fucking redwood. She had big fat earrings and was perfumed to the gills.”

Earlier that day the Secret Service had destroyed the Turtles’ metronome, suspecting it to be a bomb. And the group scored some kind of first by snorting cocaine under a portrait of Lincoln in the White House.

“It was,” said Kaylan, “the weirdest assortment of people I’ve ever seen in my life. Ambassadors’ wives with saggy tits turning off everyone on all sides of the political fence.”

The next day Tricia sent a thank-you note to Kaylan. “Dear Mr. Kaylan,” it said, “You started the ball rolling on just the right note.”

* * *

Tricia’s was a childhood not without perils. At a GOP dinner a few years ago, Mrs. Nixon and Tricia told reporters about an accident Tricia had incurred at the home of Mrs. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, a guest at the dinner. Tricia said it happened at a birthday party for Mrs. Longworth’s granddaughter. “I was six years old,” she recalled. “I fell off one of those things you pump and go around and knocked out two baby teeth.” She also got a permanent dent on her forehead from the fall. “Show them your dent, dear,” said Mrs. Nixon.

Then just last year Tricia had a terrible bout with the measles and flu. She recuperated in Florida, and when she was well, philosophized:

“It’s hard to believe I’ve been under the weather so long … out of the world. It’s boring … When you’re well again you want to live to the fullest. We take so many things for granted when we have our health.”

Tricia’s hardships have made her a brave and spunky little lady. Her father, in the article he wrote for Ladies Home Journal, mentioned the time he wanted Tricia to be crowned Azalea Queen.

“We have to talk Tricia into things,” he said, “but once she does something, she does it very well. In April of 1969, she balked at the idea of being crowned Queen of the Azalea Festival in Norfolk, Virginia. So I laid it on the line. I said, ‘Look, they want you. This is a good state. We carried it twice.’ “

The day that she arrived in Norfolk for her coronation she was suffering from strep throat. “I don’t want to disappoint anybody,” she bravely insisted as she was rushed from the airport to a suite at the Golden Triangle Motel to lie down for a while. The townspeople would have been very disappointed if she hadn’t gone through with it. They were more excited about her than any queen in the past, including the Johnson girls. “She’s so pretty and tiny,” everyone was saying. ” I want to see her.”

In her newspaper account Kandy Stroud reported, “Tricia is smiling, giggling, and pouring forth exuberance.” But in the privacy of their puce green Lincoln Continental, Tricia confided to her traveling companion Gerry Vander Geuvel, her mother’s press secretary, “I think I’m going to be sick.” Despite this, said Kandy, Tricia managed to look fresh as a daisy in a crisp white dress and jacket trimmed in blue, spotless kid gloves, blonde hair just so — held in place by a big blue bow — cheeks pink. “Tricia kept right on, gracious, smiling, and above all stoic …”

She toured the Meyers’ home, Norfolk’s oldest house, and though she was sick, she was bubbling with comments: “Oh I just love your azaleas. Oh I love that bird cage. The chandelier is wonderful. I love your dress.” And questions: “Do you ever light the candles?” and “Who gets to polish all the silver?”

* * *

Bebe Robozo calls Tricia “a little doll and a little lady,” but she used to be homely and unpopular. A school mate at Sidwell Friends, where the sisters studied when they were 12 and 14, contrasts the two:

“Julie was pretty, cute and bouncy. The kids elected her president of her class and everyone conceded it was because of her and not her father. Tricia was regarded by almost everybody as very quiet and scared. She never smiled. She was just a plain girl with a funny nose.”

Perhaps that is why she keeps to herself so much. Julie calls Tricia the Howard Hughes of the White House. One of the staff members there told Womens Wear Daily that Tricia sleeps very late in the morning and then “putzes around … spends a lot of time on her hair.”

When her father first took office there was a lot of pressure on Tricia to do something constructive with her time. So she had two black students from a District of Columbia public school delivered to the White House for tutoring. The students, a boy 11 and a girl 9, were described as deprived children who had the potential to learn more than they were getting in class.

Tricia read to them, asked them questions, dramatized stories for them, and took them on tours of the White House. The project went well and the kids were brought to Tricia four times before Julius Hobson of the Washington School Board found out about it. “I’m going to find out who in hell gave permission for her to take two black children from the school system,” he said, calling Tricia’s project “welfare colonialism.”

The tutoring stopped and Tricia was free to devote her life to visiting Eddie Cox on weekends, shopping at Lord and Taylors for more pink and white dresses and answering her mail:

“Dear Tricia, My mother says I can go steady and then if a boy asks me and I say yes she makes me break up. What should I do?”

“Miss Nixon, You don’t know me. I am a lonely soldier in Vietnam. I just got an urge to write and tell you how beautiful you are. This letter was not written so that I could brag about it later, either.”

“Dear Patricia, Let’s face it, Miss, your sister married a President’s son and you’ll have to go all out in that direction also. After all, Miss, it is expected of the President’s daughter to marry someone high class.”

* * *

Edward Cox is a tall, blond, super-straight and slightly cross-eyed student at Harvard Law School. He was soon nicknamed “Fast Eddie” by his classmates, the same way 300-pound wrestlers are nicknamed “Tiny.” One student who had lunch with him recently said afterward, “I just wondered if he had blood running through his veins.”

Although Eddie worked for the New Republic and for Ralph Nader, he is a registered Republican. Tricia went with him when he registered to vote in 1968. “He was just about ready to put his X in the Liberal column,” she said, “but I was right there with my elbow.” But she said she never asks Eddie how he voted because she doesn’t want to know.

At her March 17th press conference, Tricia told reporters of the night Eddie asked the President for her hand: “Bebe Robozo was there. He said Eddie was white as a sheet when he went in. We’d been watching a movie – The Greatest Show on Earth, I think. We got so nervous we had to go out and take a walk around the grounds. Then he talked to my father. I don’t think he was really surprised.”

(Apparently the President is not easily surprised by such family matters. Mrs. Nixon, in an interview in McCalls, recalled the time Julie told her father she was marrying David Eisenhower.

(“She expected he would make a big deal out of it,” said Mrs. Nixon. “She tried to pick just the right moment. But when she finally approached him, he merely answered, ‘Oh. That’s nice,’ because he had assumed it. Julie was sort of taken aback and couldn’t hide her disappointment at his reaction. She came to tell me how let down she was. It was cute and sad at the same time.”

(When Pat told the President of Julie’s concern he immediately wrote her a memo and slipped it under her door. “How lucky you both are to have found each other. Even though you must expect some ups and downs, I am sure you will have a wonderful life together. I am also sure you know just how much happiness I wish for you both.”)

A reporter asked Tricia what her father said after his meeting with Eddie. The smile disappeared from her face as she considered the difficult question. Finally she brightened and said, “I think he was speechless.”

She said she and Eddie had known each other for seven years, since meeting at a Christmas dance at the Chapin School where the sisters were enrolled. “I felt smothered when we danced — he was so tall.” They sat out a dance and played a word game, Hangman. He chose the word “Africaniophile.”

“I can spell that,” Tricia volunteered for the newsmen, then proceeded to spell the word with a “K.” “It means underdog lovers,” she explained. “All Americans are basically underdog lovers.” Tricia had been very impressed with Eddie’s intelligence and told the press, “I think Eddie is more intelligent than I am.

“She said he was also more athletic. “When he plays squash or tennis, I cheer and get out the pom poms … I’m very unathletically inclined.” She said she wasn’t much good as a cook, either. She can make chocolate chip cookies, Eddie’s favorite, and pancakes and eggs and bacon.

“It’s really a hard thing to get the bacon right,” the President’s daughter is quoted as saying.

* * *

Tricia is the most conservative of the Nixons. “What has happened to Tricia,” wrote her father in Ladies Home Journal, “is that she has reacted to attacks on her father by liberals. She bristles and stands up for me. But she’s certainly not on the kooky right.”

During the civil rights struggle in Atlanta, when Governor Maddox was barring Negroes from his restaurant, little Tricia wrote him a letter suggesting he change his restaurant to a private club. “I’m not a segregationist, but private property is private property and you should be able to do with it as you please.”

Some years later she spoke of Spiro Agnew, the Vice President: “It’s amazing what he has done to the media … helping it to reform itself. I’m a close watcher of newspapers and TV. I think they’ve taken a second look. You can’t underestimate the power of fear. They’re afraid if they don’t shape up …”

Certainly, however, Tricia does possess her own kind of open mind and once admitted that she likes to bring Democrats home to dinner. “Daddy doesn’t mind,” she said. “We try to convert them.”

Tricia has said that she is proud of her generation because it is “very idealistic” and “interested in changing the world, in changing it for the better. And I think that the vast majority of my generation is doing something constructive to change the world for the better … young people … who are involved in many different volunteer programs to help people who are less fortunate than themselves or who need special help. There are some people who are dissatisfied with the pace of change to the extent that they will go out and demonstrate, or demonstrate for other reasons.”

She thinks that demonstrating is “the easiest way to express dissent — you listen to a few rock songs and shout slogans,” but there are better ways. “Any student at any university in the United States,” said Miss Nixon, “who has an idea on how to bridge the gap between students and government should write it down and send it to the White House.”

* * *

Home and family are important to Tricia, and she particularly enjoys the White House, her home “while father is out serving the nation.” This became evident last year when she took CBS newsmen Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace and millions of viewers on a tour of the first family’s second floor.

Don Hewitt, executive producer of the television program, said later of Tricia, “She’s poised, witty, pretty, and she thinks fast on her feet.” At one point in the interview, said Hewitt, she pointed out a clock given to her father by Charles de Gaulle. Reasoner remarked that it didn’t tell the right time. The camera crew winced, expecting Tricia to get flustered, but she amazed everyone with her poise and wit, ad-libbing, “Well, that just proves this was an unrehearsed show.”

She proved the perfect hostess to Reasoner and Wallace. “Today’s a beautiful day,” she said as the tour continued. “The grounds here are beautiful…. There’s some beautiful paintings, some beautiful molding, a beautiful window.” She showed them the family card table where “we all enjoy playing games. And we sit around the table and play games there.” And she entered the room where her father plays the piano. “As you know a President’s day is really never ended,” but the piano playing, she thought, “is a good hobby that is a nice change from the problems of state and problems of the world.”

There are times, she said, when her father even works after midnight to formulate a policy or write a speech on “his trusty yellow pad.”

Occasionally the President does relax, she revealed, by turning up the air conditioning to maximum so a fire in the fireplace is bearable, listening to music by Mantovani, gazing out the window at the Washington monument and sometimes eating his favorite lunch, cottage cheese with catsup. Food is not that important to the President, she said, but “he does know when things are good.”

Tricia likes to be around her family as much as she can. She went to college in New York — even though her parents encouraged her to go away to school — because she wanted to be near them.

“We sit around the table,” she told Barbara Walters during a television interview, “and we have a little family tradition, I suppose you call it, what we call going around the table at dinner. We will throw out a question or something and then we will each say what we think about it. I don’t know that we have ever made a great contribution to speeches, but we do discuss questions.”

Another family favorite is bowling, revealed Tricia. The bowling alley is the most popular recreational facility at Camp David. One day President Nixon had a bandaid an his right thumb and he was proud of it. He showed it off to reporters after White House church services and explained that he got the sore thumb bowling Saturday at Camp David. His score, he told reporters, was 204.

“I had five strikes and two spares,” said the President. Mrs. Nixon scored 104 because, she explained, “there were no bowling balls light enough for a woman.” She managed, however, to beat Bebe Robozo.

Sometimes everyone just watches TV. “My father likes to watch the sports programs on television when he can,” said Tricia. “He’ll be able to watch maybe a couple of innings of a game once in a while.

And we all look for the specials and the newscasts. “And then, of course, we sit around here when my father is giving a speech or a major address, a news conference. And then when he comes upstairs after being downstairs and giving it, he usually sits right here and there’s a little telephone here, and so he calls his staff and he calls Julie and David and various other members of the family to see how they thought he did.”

* * *

Soon Tricia will not be living with her parents anymore. She and Eddie will be on their own.

“Ed and I are lucky that we have more to begin with, more than our parents ever dreamed of having,” she told a reporter. “Ed and I are fortunate to have had the kind of life our parents were able to give us. I have to experience being a housewife because I have never really taken care of a house completely by myself.

“I think that the most important thing for me and my marriage is to concentrate on the family. I think if children turn out well, the problems of the world will certainly not be as great.”

In This Article: Coverwall, Richard Nixon

Show Comments

Newswire

Powered by
Close comments

Add a comment