Woods, longtime Nixon secretary, dies at 87


In this photo provided by the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, Rose Mary Woods, devoted secretary to President Nixon who said she inadvertently erased part of a crucial Watergate tape, sits April 15, 1969 at her desk in the White House.

The Associated Press
Published: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
WASHINGTON - Rose Mary Woods, the devoted White House secretary to Richard M. Nixon who found herself at the center of one of the great mysteries of Watergate after 18 minutes of a crucial White House tape were erased, died Saturday near her hometown in northeastern Ohio. She was 87.
A spokesman for a local funeral home said Woods died at a nursing home in Alliance, Ohio.
Woods, who worked for Nixon for more than two decades and joined him in exile in California after his 1974 resignation as president, took part of the blame for the missing portion of a taped conversation between Nixon and the White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, on June 20, 1972, three days after the break-in at Democratic headquarters in Washington.
In one of the most memorable photographs of the era, Woods is shown attempting to re-create the scenario in which, she said, she could have accidentally erased part of the tape as she was transcribing it on Nixon's orders in 1973, after the scandal broke. The photograph shows Woods at a desk, reaching far back over her left shoulder for a telephone as her foot hits a pedal controlling the transcription machine.
"I am most dreadfully sorry," she said in court testimony in November 1973 in explaining that through some "terrible mistake," she had pressed the wrong button on the pedal and recorded over the tape. She said that she had immediately notified Nixon of the erasure and that he had assured her that "there's no problem because that's not one of the subpoenaed tapes."
Still, Woods testified her error might explain only about five minutes of the gap, not the full 18 minutes. In 2003, the National Archives said a panel of audio specialists had analyzed the tape and been unable to recapture the lost conversation.
News that so much of the tape had been deleted eroded Nixon's credibility on Capitol Hill and with the Watergate special prosecutor's office at a time when his presidency was beginning to unravel. The gap consisted of a buzzing sound that obliterated part of a conversation in which Nixon was instructing Haldeman to take "public relations" moves to divert attention from the break-in at the Watergate office complex.
Woods, often described in news accounts during the Nixon presidency as the most doggedly loyal and tight-lipped of the president's inner circle, dated her association with Nixon to 1947, when she was a secretary on a select House foreign affairs committee and became impressed by the neatness and accuracy of expense statements submitted to the panel by Nixon, then a House freshman from California.
After Nixon was elected to the Senate, Woods joined his staff, remaining with him after his election as vice president, through his later failed bids for the presidency against John F. Kennedy and for governor of California, and in his New York law practice in the 1960s. She returned to Washington and the White House after Nixon's election as president in 1968. Nixon described Woods as being as close "as family" and said in his memoirs he asked her to break the news in August 1974 to his wife, Pat, and his daughters he was resigning.
"My decision was irrevocable, and I asked her to suggest that we not talk about it anymore when I went over for dinner," Nixon wrote.
One of five children in a tightly knit Irish Catholic home, Woods was brought up in Sebring, a small town in northeastern Ohio. At the age of 17, she went to work in her father's pottery company.
She was engaged at the time to a young man who died before their wedding. She never married, later telling reporters that she was pleased to dedicate herself to a career alongside Nixon that had provided her with a "stimulating and interesting life."
Roger Ruzek, the funeral director in Sebring who confirmed news of Woods' death, said she was survived by two sisters. He said he had no other information on her family.

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