The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation announced today that John H. Taylor, the foundation's executive director since it opened in 1990 and before that Nixon's chief of staff, is leaving Sunday to become the full-time vicar (or priest in charge) at St. John Chrysostom Episcopal Church and School in Rancho Santa Margarita.
Taylor, who is shown here with his daughter Valerie and the former president in the 1980s, on Jan. 20 sent a formal letter of resignation to board chairman Kris Elftmann. "I have loved my work at the Library and Foundation, and if there were a practical way to keep doing both jobs, I assure you that I would," Taylor wrote. "Having begun working for the former president in 1979, this has been a life's work and no doubt will continue to be, if in other forums (ecclesiastical and otherwise!)."
"John Taylor played a critical role in building what is arguably the most beautiful and vibrant campus in the presidential library system," states Elftmann in the foundation's announcement. "The foundation thanks him for his longtime dedication to President Nixon, to the president's library and to the president's legacy. We will sorely miss John's creativity and vision, his extraordinary communication skills, and his tireless energy. And we wish him great success as he begins the next chapter in his life."
Taylor had been serving part-time at the church before getting the call to go full-time. He has -- and continues to be on TheNewNixon.org blog -- a staunch believer in the disgraced former president, blaming Nixon's resignation in the face of impeachment on partisanship and ill will lingering from the Vietnam War. That viewpoint shaped the focus of the library ever since its original executive director, Hugh Hewitt, left for greener pastures in 1979. But it also created a perception that Nixon's library, unlike those of other presidents, was not a serious center of study, which no doubt would have driven the Old Man, with his late-life reincarnation as a scholarly elder statesman, even battier than he was when he was boozily talking to paintings hanging in the White House.
Nixon pals like former board chairman George Argyros took pride in the fact that the nine-acre complex, built with $40 million in donations, was alone among presidential libraries in operating entirely with private funds, and therefore total control of the spin on Nixon's dark legacy.
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But Taylor's reign was nearly cut short in the spring of 2002 when he found himself at the center of a dispute between Nixon's daughters, Tricia Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. Eisenhower's attorney, Thomas Malcolm, sent foundation board members a letter stating Taylor should be fired for creating a "media frenzy" by suing over a $19-million bequest to the library by the former president's longtime friend Charles "Bebe" Rebozo. Eisenhower wanted those funds sent to the library while Cox favored a smaller committee comprised of the sisters and a Nixon friend to control the money. The sisters eventually reached a compromise and Taylor remained at the helm.
As for its scholarly significance, Nixon's was the only presidential library with no original presidential papers as a 1974 law kept them in Washington out of concern that Nixon might destroy materials related to the Watergate scandal that forced him to resign. After his death in 1990, that concern shifted to his family, his foundation and staunch allies like Taylor. Finally, in 2006, a deal was reached with the National Archives that would allow it to oversee Nixon's records and control how they are displayed. New facilities being built in Yorba Linda to handle the documents, which remain in College Park, Maryland, in the interim, are expected to open in 2010, said Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum director Tim Naftali.
Naftali is adamant in saying the reign of pro-Nixon spin has ended at the library now that it is supported by federal dollars, including those generated when people check the box directing a dollar of their income taxes go to maintenance of presidential libraries. Since his arrival, Naftali says, the library is decidedly non-partisan.
But the foundation rolls on, raising funds and holding events on the grounds such as Ann Coulter's recent appearance. (Naftali has also introduced some counter-programming.) The foundation board met Monday and selected another former Nixon chief of staff, Kathy O'Connor, as acting executive director while the search continues for a permanent executive director. You can bet Taylor will be praying for whoever it is.