Workers credit Nixon with sympathy to them


April 27, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- When President Richard M. Nixon is buried today, federal workers will honor a decades-old tradition and stay home.

The last president to call on that tradition was Mr. Nixon himself when he declared a national day of mourning for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973. The federal government also closed down for the funerals of Presidents John F. Kennedy in 1963, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1969 and Harry S. Truman in 1972.

For many workers, today may be the same as a federal holiday. But for those employed during the Nixon administration, it may be different.

"I haven't been sleeping just thinking about all these things, just reminiscing," former White House assistant Clarence Scruggs says from his Annapolis home. "I think about his death a lot, really."

Mr. Scruggs worked in the White House from 1970 until the Watergate scandal forced Mr. Nixon's resignation from office. For him and other political appointees, government work transcended professional boundaries.

"My father died when I was 2 1/2 , and Nixon was like a father to me," says Mr. Scruggs, 68. "I even took him up to my mother's house to visit."

Al Golato, national vice president of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, was chief spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service during the Nixon presidency. He remembers being surprised at how sympathetic Nixon was to federal worker issues.

"Some of us thought he was going to be much sterner and stricter with federal employees and yet he was very accommodating and very considerate to those issues," Mr. Golato says.

Several former civil servants say Mr. Nixon worked to protect retiree benefits, cost-of-living increases in pensions and federal pay raises.

Other government workers remember feeling frustrated that the federal laws limited their ability to join the public outcry over Watergate -- either for or against Mr. Nixon.

"You must remember that we couldn't take part in things of a political nature. We had to be nonpartisan so therefore we couldn't be as vocal as government workers could be today or people could be on the outside," says George Wiehl, a former U.S. Postal Service official who lives in Damascus, Md.

Mr. Wiehl, a Nixon supporter when he worked in Washington, watched the presidency unravel from the inside.

"You could see it was coming, and you sort of prepared for it," he says. "It was inevitable."

Some former civil servants are critical of Mr. Nixon.

Thomas B. Cumiskey, a former assistant post master, left his job with the U.S. Postal Service in disgust two years before Mr. Nixon resigned because of administration efforts to reorganize the agency.

Mr. Cumiskey recalls that during a training session at postal headquarters, a private businessman brought in by the administration advised supervisors not to eat lunch with lower-ranked employees.

"I had come from the ranks, and here he was slapping them in the face," says Mr. Cumiskey, of Cumberland. "I got out the earliest I could. I saw the handwriting on the wall, and I knew they were bringing in a system that was going to alienate a lot of people."

But Harold G. Lewis, a Kent Islander who worked at the Pentagon during the Nixon administration, thinks history will be kinder to the former president.

"We feel he proved the type of man he was because he never really gave up," Mr. Lewis says. "He continued to be involved regardless of the way he was disgraced."

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