The Nixons Find a New Home and a New Contentment

updated 01/25/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/25/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Since her husband's resignation in 1974, the biggest change in Pat Nixon's life has been to settle into the role of grandmother—and a doting one at that. Last February she rounded up daughter Tricia Cox, now 35, and grandchildren Christopher Cox, 3 next March, and Jennie Eisenhower, 3½, for a trip to the taping of Sesame Street. Where the kids are concerned, Pat shows no reluctance to pull rank. "As a rule, Sesame Street is a closed set," admits publicist Fran Kaufman. "But we make exceptions for VIPs like Mrs. Nixon who want to visit." After the show the normally shy Pat cheerfully posed for pictures with her family.

She is less reclusive now than in San Clemente, the Nixons' first home in exile, but remains far from gregarious—even though she shows no aftereffects from her 1976 stroke. Says Helene Drown—today, as in Ehrlichman's account, her one confidante—"Pat's always wanted to live a quiet life, but she's never had that option until now."

The Nixons moved to expensive, secluded Saddle River, N.J. from their Manhattan town house last October. Friends report that Pat never has trouble amusing herself. She reads historical biographies and watches Masterpiece Theater. She sallies forth to New York on occasional shopping trips with Tricia. On one expedition, the patrons in an East Side restaurant gave mother and daughter a standing ovation. Pat still clings to one of the habits Ehrlichman sought to break—she handles her own mail. Says a former aide: "I'm always getting darling notes from her, and they're always handwritten!"

Saddle River seems thrilled to have the Nixons in residence, but Pat is pretty much a stranger. Says Saddle River's Republican Mayor, Duncan Cameron: "My wife asked Mrs. Nixon if she'd like to go out with her to visit some places and Mrs. Nixon said for the time being she wasn't going out at all." Nonetheless, at a Christmas party the Nixons gave for their Secret Service agents (six are assigned) and a few neighbors, Pat was gracious and lively. She spoke approvingly of Nancy Reagan's White House redecoration and glowingly of her grandchildren. "She's a remarkable woman," says Helene Drown, who lives in California but talks to Mrs. Nixon frequently and has visited the new home. "Yet she was never comfortable on TV, and that's why the warmth of her personality never came across."

Richard Nixon puts in full workdays at his Manhattan office, where he is writing a book about world leaders he has known. It is scheduled for publication next October. On a normal day, he returns home in mid-afternoon, then joins his wife for a 6 o'clock dinner, served by a live-in Chinese couple. Valet Manolo Sanchez and his wife, Fina, who were with the Nixons for nearly 20 years, have retired to Spain. Pat occasionally accompanies her husband on his after-dinner walk in the neighborhood. They are in bed by 9 or 10.

At his semimonthly stag dinners for businessmen, diplomats, editors and the like, Nixon always greets his guests at the door. The evening begins with drinks, mixed by the host himself, and a tour of the house. Dinner is usually Chinese, and the conversation often tends toward the bawdy. Pat generally keeps to her room for the entire evening. "She didn't even come downstairs to say hello," reported one guest.

Tricia, who lives in a Manhattan apartment, visits her parents at least twice a week. Julie, whose home is a Daylesford, Pa. carriage house, comes up twice a month with husband David, Jennie and 15-month-old Alex Richard. The Nixons are frequent guests at the Eisenhowers' turn-of-the-century home, where David is completing a biography of his grandfather, Dwight Eisenhower, and Julie is writing a biography of her mother. Last summer Tricia's husband, Ed Cox, apparently was passed over for a partnership at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, the New York law firm. He now lives during the week in the Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington, where he is an attorney for the U.S. Synthetic Fuels Corp. It is a government-funded agency established to assist private industry to develop synthetic fuels.

If Pat and Dick Nixon are still basically loners, their solitude is opulent. Their 15-room house, designed by Eleanore Pettersen, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright's, features a 1,000-bottle wine cellar and his-and-her dressing rooms—Pat's is burgundy marble and her husband's, brown leather. The house is decorated primarily with newly purchased contemporary furniture. Scattered about are Nixon's presidential relics, souvenirs of his travels and gifts, including a blue rug from the Shah of Iran. The Nixons' terraced backyard leads to a 900-square-foot swimming pool with a lighted tennis court beyond. Security on the four-acre lot is tight. The Nixons spent $30,000 to convert part of their three-bay carport into a command post for the Secret Service agents and also installed an electronic gate at the end of the driveway.

Howard Colgan, a retired Wall Street lawyer and the Nixons' closest neighbor on their dead-end street, says, "We're delighted to have them." Not everyone, however, has forgotten Watergate, including some Republicans who have attended social functions with Nixon but did not want to be identified as guests by the local newspaper. Explains one old New Jersey politician: "They're the ones still running for office."

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