Often, our personal memories of famous (or infamous) folks are more vivid and impactful than those provided to use by the news.
Such is the case of G. Gordon Liddy.
For those of you too young to know his name, Liddy became famous because of his role in the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration. Some call him the “mastermind” behind the break-in that culminated in Nixon resigning.
Liddy spent more than four years in prison. He later said he’d do it all again for his president.
His loyalty to a difficult president and his participation of illegal acts made him a pariah to some. My mom never lost her empathy for him.
Mom and Liddy’s wife, Fran, went to the College of New Rochelle together. They were friendly and Mom lived in Fran’s mother’s home when Mom started her career as a teacher at an elementary school in Poughkeepsie, New York. They kept in touch as Fran married and started her family. Mom recalls the boys as being “good swimmers” and “each one of them was athletic.”
When Liddy ran for a seat in the New York congress, Mom held a cocktail party for him. She remembered her guests were more interested in drinking than listening to a fledgling politician, but Liddy was a good sport and kept his introductory remarks short and his humor sharp. If his later years evidenced anything, it was that he was passionate about what he believed in and didn’t shy away from taking action he felt compelled to take. “He had a dry wit that softened his imposing manner,” she recalled.
Why write these memories? I’ve written about Liddy’s involvement in a devastating chapter in
my family’s life. An arsonist burned down our family barn. Although not the lead prosecutor on the case, Liddy helped our family as much as he could.
The help he gave Mom and our family during that difficult time was enough to engender Mom’s lifelong sympathy for him. Be he good or bad, she wasn’t going to abandon him. During his four years in prison, she corresponded with him, recalling that his responses were “sparsely written” but appreciative of her connection.
When Fran died, her funeral was to be held in Poughkeepsie. A blizzard made travel difficult, but Mom made it to the church, only to find it locked. The priest said the storm had kept the family from traveling from Washington. Mom sent her condolences, but always regretted not being able to say her final good-byes in person. “I wanted Gordon to know I tried.”
When I told Mom of his passing, she said, “I’m truly saddened. I hope his death was peaceful.” She wasn’t going to forgive his wrongs, but she wasn’t going to take away from his good, either.
Of all the reactions I’ve read about his life, I think Mom’s recollection of him is the most kind.