Rebozo's bequest deepens rift between Nixon daughters

Cox, Eisenhower battling over direction of library

March 19, 2002|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

In the eight years since President Richard M. Nixon was laid to rest in Yorba Linda, Calif., his two daughters have been embroiled in a bitter dispute over how best to showcase the legacy of the only man to resign from the presidency.

Now the quiet feud has spilled into open court, as the sisters battle over a $12 million bequest from Nixon's longtime friend, the late Bebe Rebozo.

At stake is not just the money, but how Nixon's memory will be preserved. The dispute grows out of the sisters' sharply divergent views over whether the Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation, the beneficiary of Rebozo's bequest, should be operated by the family or by an independent board of directors.

On one side is Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who fought as a young woman alongside her father as he faced a national storm over Watergate. On the other side is Tricia Nixon Cox, whose White House wedding made the cover of Time but who shared her mother's cool reserve. And in the middle is the largesse of Rebozo, a Miami businessman whose friendship with the president brought him more attention than he liked - including investigations into campaign contributions.

Until now, Eisenhower's vision has prevailed, with the Yorba Linda library - and its assets - overseen by a 24-member board that includes the sisters and several former Nixon White House figures.

But terms of Rebozo's $12 million bequest have given Cox an opening to try to wrest control of the money - which would double the foundation's endowment - from the board.

In lawsuits filed in Orange County and in Miami earlier this year, the Nixon Foundation is seeking to head off Cox and to oust her from a three-member board that Rebozo's will established to oversee the bequest. With its legal action, the foundation hopes to finally free up the money, most of which has been tied up in probate because of the dispute.

The roots of the dispute go back to a struggle between the sisters after Nixon's death over the degree of control the family should have over the foundation.

"In 1997, Mrs. Eisenhower went down one road and Mrs. Cox went down the other," said John H. Taylor, executive director of the Nixon Library. "This has been a very, very difficult path for Mrs. Eisenhower to walk. She had to take a step ... which caused members of her own family to be angry with her. That was not easy."

Another director - and Eisenhower ally - was more blunt: "There's a complete estrangement between the sisters," he said, asking that he not be identified.

Neither sister could be reached for comment, and their attorneys declined to discuss the case.

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