When First Lady Pat Nixon Greeted the D.C. Newswomen

I Saw Her for the first time. A newcomer, I had also just met two Hostesses with the Mostess, each of whom insisted I accept a lift in their limousine.

The Washington Daily News, October 15, 1971: As a newspaperwoman in Washington for nearly three years, I think I may have the dubious distinction of being the only D.C. woman reporter who had never met Pat Nixon.

In fact, during all this time, I’ve covered just two social events — both as it turned out, on the same night. At the first party, I met Perle Mesta and, when she found out I had to go by myself to another party at Gwen Cafritz’ — Perle insisted on taking me over in her limousine. Even though she had to wait 15 minutes by herself in the lobby while I finished working, and even though she was tired and had finally decided to go home instead of coming in with me as she first planned.

I call that class.

So until last night the only party types I’ve met were the two hostesses with the mostesses. Perle Mesta and Gwen Cafritz.

But now everything has changed.

I went over to the American Newspaper Women’s club for a reception for Mrs. Nixon and there, live and in person, were Martha Mitchell (I wrote her a letter last month asking for an interview for one of our food pages and got a “no” for an answer), Lenore Romney (I interviewed her by phone in Michigan when she was running for senator), and Barbara Laird (whose husband Melvin came over later and was surrounded by the ladies).

And there too was Mrs. Nixon, looking beautiful in a dress the color of a lemon drop just a few shades brighter than her hair. She stood glowing at one side of the drawing room, greeting a stream of women for an hour and a half. And each person felt as though Mrs. Nixon was there just to say hello to her.

In a corner of the room, a piano player drowned out the pleasantries being exchanged but not the gnashing of teeth of the newspaper women covering the event who couldn’t overhear what was being said. These included my pal, Ruth Dean, from theWashington Evening Star, and that gracious lady from the Washington Post, Dorothy McCardle.

How do you cover a social event? You get people to say things. Interesting things. History-making things. News-making things. Well, if you get desperate, any things. I noticed that whenever there was the least bit of action, all the working press converged on what Mrs. McCardle called a “bit of honey.”

I noticed newswoman Sarah McClendon, who still had her hairdo left over from the night before when she had Impersonated Martha Mitchell at the National Press Club. I asked her how Mrs. Mitchell had reacted to news reports (Martha hadn’t been able to attend) of Sarah’s spoof. Sarah confided that not only had Mrs. Mitchell loaned her the telephone she had used for a prop, along with several yards of blonde hair, but that “she loved it.”

I nearly forgot. Mrs. Nixon was the first First Lady to visit the lovely townhouse headquarters of the American Newspaper Women’s club at 1607 22nd street nw. And that’s news. The main reason she had been invited was so she could be given a check for the Pat Nixon park and museum at her girlhood home in Cerritos, Calif.

As Mrs. Nixon left the club we all followed her down the stairs and watched her being whisked off in her limousine. Then, the next thing you know, Dorothy McCardle and I were being whisked off in a limousine too, by Mrs. Eugene Rietzke, who had attended the reception in her Grey Lady uniform. Mrs. Rietzke dropped Dorothy off at the Post and then had her chauffeur drive me right into the gas station near The News where I park my car. “Boy, will those fellows be impressed,” I said impulsively as we rolled in. And, thanking Mrs. Rietzke, I started to open the car door. She restrained me just in time so I could sit like a lady and let the chauffeur open the door for me.

I may get used to the party beat yet!




Judy Flander is an entertainment feature writer and television critic who for many years during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s wrote insightful interviews of many well known people, and some not so well known then, were published in newspapers and magazines across the US.

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Judy Flander

Judy Flander

American Journalist. As a newspaper reporter in Washington, D.C., surreptitiously covered the 1970s’ Women’s Liberation Movement.

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