By Marje Acker
The most important day of my life turned out to be May 1, 1951.
Two and a half months earlier, I had left my home in Portland, Oregon to take a GS-3 clerk-typist job at the State Department. When I heard about a secretarial opening on the staff of the junior Senator from California, I summoned all my courage, applied for the job, and was hired.
My first morning on the job, I was shown to my desk right across the aisle from Richard Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods.
I will never forget her welcoming smile and her high-heeled, ankle-strap shoes. Almost immediately we developed a strong, enduring friendship. Soon I was lucky enough to become her secretary, a post I held during all my years on Richard Nixon’s staff.
Rose was a bright, politically savvy, red-headed Irish Catholic from Ohio, with a wonderful sense of humor, great empathy for people, and impeccable integrity. In reading articles about her recent death, those who didn’t know her might think her life was all about a gap on a tape. How wrong they would be.
To colleagues, friends and family, she was the very best friend you could ever have. She always had time to listen and offer advice if you had a problem. She made you feel you were the most important person in the world to her.
She was a role model and mentor for all of us.
We had such a close working relationship – we both were fast typists, could work under pressure, thrive on little sleep, read each other’s shorthand, confide in and trust each other, laugh and cry together.
The hours were long as we raced against the clock to get speeches finished on time, respond to tons of correspondence, make innumerable lists for events, gifts, and thank-you letters, field and place phone calls, and manage schedules. And yet as I look back on my association with Rose, I’m amazed we were able to fit in just as many good times and laughs.
In 1957, shortly before Phil Acker and I married, he had to go to Washington on San Diego city business. I asked him to be sure to meet Rose and take her to dinner, which he did. Phil knew that I valued Rose’s opinion so much that he later speculated – not entirely without foundation — that if Rose had not approved of him, I might not have married him.
So Rose was much more than a secretary to Richard Nixon. She also was a dear friend of the family and was cited in articles as “the fifth Nixon.” After the 1968 election, she was the first person the President named to his White House staff.
Rose was also close to her own family. I don’t think a week passed that she didn’t find time to call her parents.
A couple of times, she took me along to Sebring for a weekend, where the Woods made me feel I was part of their family. In the 1950s her brother, Joe, and his wife, Lui, lived in Virginia with their four children. Rose visited once a week if she could, often taking dinner and always ice cream.
In the 1970s, when her niece Theresa and her family lived near Washington, we spent many holidays with them. Whenever her sisters and their families visited, she cleared her calendar to be with them.
The epitome of thoughtfulness, Rose also made sure the Boss had his bases covered.
When the Nixons and the staff were in Key Biscayne one year, the President and First Lady invited us for dinner just prior to returning to Washington. Afterward, Rose took the President aside and told him it was my birthday.
Soon after Air Force One was aloft, I was told the President wanted to see me in his cabin. Waiting with him and Pat was the whole staff, complete with a birthday cake. I never did figure out how they had found a cake late on a Sunday evening at a moment’s notice!
Inspired by Rose, we had such fun planning a 25th wedding anniversary party for Bette and Don Hughes, as well as surprise parties for the promotions for General Hughes, one of RN’s military aides, and the President’s doctor, General Walter Tkach.
I can remember just one time we were able to surprise her – a party to mark her 20th anniversary as the President’s secretary. During the weeks of planning we had to talk in code lest she find out. That day we all wore big campaign buttons saying “Rose Woods for President” – a job she might well have been able to handle.
Of course there were sad times as well.
On election night in 1962, when RN ran for California governor, all of us, including Rose, were up all night. I will never forget the Boss coming into the staff room the next morning and individually thanking each of us for our help and saying how sorry he was he had let us down.
During the dark, ugly days of Watergate, Rose and I tried to find little things to relieve the pressure. We had signs on our desk reading illegetimi non carborundum — don’t let the bastards grind you down!”
So many memories…in California on a beautiful summer day, driving in her convertible with the top down to Malibu for a couple of hours walking on the beach… our walks to the Tidal Basin on a spring day in Washington to see the pansy garden…walking around Camp David between speech drafts…being together for campaigns, elections, and inaugurations, as well as the dedication of the Nixon Library and the funerals of Mrs. Nixon and the President.
Rose Mary Woods will always be cherished and loved and remembered by her family and the innumerable friends and colleagues who had the privilege of knowing her.
Marje Acker served on Richard Nixon’s senatorial, Vice Presidential, and Presidential staffs. Now retired in San Diego, she attended services for Rose Mary Woods in Sebring, Ohio on Saturday, January 29.