CT author says his time as Nixon’s aide had ‘a price called Watergate’

GREENWICH — Riverside resident Dwight Chapin served as Richard Nixon’s deputy aide in the White House after years of dedicated service before the presidency. And his new book promises to show the man beyond the Watergate scandal.

In “The President’s Man: The Memoirs of Nixon’s Trusted Aide,” Chapin talks about his own experiences and a conviction that landed him in jail as a result of Watergate, but vigorously defends a man and a presidency that he believes , have not received the complete vision of the story.

“I had been involved in renovating the Nixon Presidential Library and when I was doing that I realized how little people knew about Richard Nixon,” Chapin told Hearst Connecticut Media Tuesday from his home. “They knew Nixon through Watergate or through the China open. And there was so much more to the man. I thought about how I was one of the few guys who knew him as well as me and who could put some meat around what it was.

But he also had a more personal reason for writing the book, one that was hammered home by a visit to see a family who lives in Kansas City.

He said his grandson asked him curiously if he had worked for a president and after Chapin said he had, his grandson asked him why he had gone to jail and if the president had gone to jail too.

“I told my wife on the plane home that I needed to take and write down what happened to me so that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, when the question arises of know what happened to me and why I have to go to jail, they will know the answer,” Chapin said.

Ultimately, Chapin said the book is about 15% about his own experiences and family life and 85% about his time with Nixon which began in 1962 when Nixon launched his unsuccessful bid for the post of governor in California and Chapin was a college student. University of Southern California looking for a summer job.

As a field man during the campaign, Chapin became acquainted with the Nixon family. And when Nixon moved to New York to work as a lawyer, Chapin also moved and volunteered to work after hours at the mail-answering law firm, where he became close to Nixon’s wife, Pat.

Chapin settled into a life in Cos Cob with his wife and family and he believes it was Pat Nixon who recommended the future president to officially take him on as his assistant in 1967. He began traveling with Nixon throughout the country and followed him. after Nixon’s successful 1968 presidential campaign in the White House, where Chapin had a front row seat to history, good and bad.

Chapin points out that he was never an adviser to Nixon, just an aide who tried to respect the privileges he had.

“I had a role,” Chapin said. “I knew my role and that was to make sure everything around him worked the way it was supposed to. …I didn’t spend my days talking about how special it was that I was here, but I knew I was in a privileged position and had a responsibility to do it the best I could. could.

Chapin said that’s ultimately what led to his conviction for making material false statements to a grand jury about the administration’s backstabbing operations. He served a prison sentence from August 1975 to April 1976.

“It was heartbreaking,” Chapin said. “My family suffered, I suffered. … Looking back on all of this, I had this great privilege and it was a wonderful experience. I just wish there hadn’t been a price tag called Watergate.

The times they spent together included the highest of peaks: Nixon’s two successful presidential campaigns, his six years in the White House, and the famous diplomatic breakthroughs in China and Moscow, where Chapin was the forward man and was alongside Nixon.

But he was also there for the lowest of lows.

“In my book, we try to introduce Nixon — sort of warts and all — like we tried to do with the library,” Chapin said. “There are important good things about him, but also character traits that if he could change them, he should change them. But this idea that there is this dividing line and that Nixon is just evil is fake.

Chapin said there was a side to Nixon that few people got to see.

“He was a very warm, caring type of man,” Chapin said. “The Quaker influence of his mother and his whole family situation was more prevalent in his personality, his composition and what he was than hardly anyone could recognize.”

One story Chapin told was during a trip to the White House in the Vatican to meet Pope Paul VI and Nixon found out who among the Air Force One personnel were Catholic so he could take them.

“We went to meet the Holy Father and he introduced him to the personnel of Air Force One,” Chapin said. “There was this Filipino steward standing there, with the President of the United States introducing him to the Pope and tears streaming down the side of his face. It was that poignant moment and it never would have happened if Richard Nixon hadn’t decided he was going to do this.

Chapin will speak about his book at the Perrot Memorial Library, 90 Sound Beach Ave., Old Greenwich, at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The event will be held in person and on Zoom. For more information, visit perrotlibrary.org.

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Richard L. Militello