The Dog Who Rescued Richard Nixon

A canine cured the political crisis that could have ended a future president's career.

For the Record


She taught music. He was a traveling salesman. They never gained much fame. But, with help from their cocker spaniel Boots, they may have changed the course of history.

Had Beatrice Carrol not been hired to teach piano at a women's college in Texas, had Lou Carrol not picked up a newspaper to read during another lonely dinner on the road, had Boots not been paired up with a stud named Ace and given birth to a litter of black and white cockers two months before the Republican National Convention in 1952, Richard Nixon -- it could be argued -- might never have been president.

It was the Carrols who -- back when TVs were black and white and Communists were "Reds" -- gave the Nixon family the puppy they would name Checkers.

And it was Checkers who provided the sentimental hook in a speech that helped the then-U.S. senator from California secure his role as Dwight Eisenhower's vice presidential running mate.

Nixon's "Fund Speech," better known as his Checkers speech -- given 50 years ago tomorrow -- was historic on several levels. It was the first time a politician, bypassing news organizations, made a direct appeal to the public on television. The speech was watched by the largest audience TV had ever amassed. And, most historians now agree, it resulted in Eisenhower turning around a decision -- all but made, Nixon found out shortly before going on the air -- to remove him from the ticket.

But like so much else when it comes to the man who would later serve as the nation's 37th president, the Checkers story is full of contradictions.

Nixon barely knew the dog when he gave the speech. He implied she was a surprise when, in fact, his staff had known about the planned gift for more than a month. And, in the speech, he both got her gender wrong and incorrectly stated where she had been picked up.

Those discrepancies -- granted, not as alarming as an 18 1/2 -minute gap on a White House tape recording -- never got the kind of scrutiny that Nixon would in 1974, when the Watergate scandal and investigation led to his resignation as president.

For Lou Carrol, "that whole Watergate mess" made for some uncomfortable times, as well. While he had remained in relative obscurity, while he had never boasted about his gift to Nixon, he became, after that, hesitant to mention it at all.

To this day, few know he is the "man down in Texas" Nixon referred to in the speech. Other than appearing on two TV quiz shows in the 1950s -- I've Got a Secret and What's My Line? -- Carrol never received much publicity. "Nor," he says, "was I seeking it.

"It was just one of those things you do spontaneously. There's a joy in doing that kind of thing," he said. "Every time I'd see those children -- those pictures of them and the dog and how happy they looked -- it put a smile on my face."

They were newlyweds when they moved to Texas in 1950, both recent graduates of Indiana University, she with a master's in music and piano, he with a business degree.

When she got offered her first job -- teaching piano at what's now known as the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas -- he lined up a sales job that would allow him to be based there, as district manager for J.I. Holcomb, an Indianapolis-based company that sold chairs, desks and school supplies.

Beatrice Colbert had grown up in Washington, Ind., where her father managed an auto parts store. Louis Carrol -- his name originally was Kara-voulias -- was the son of Greek immigrants who settled in Massachussets.

Belton, a small town about 60 miles north of Austin, seemed almost foreign. "I had never experienced Southern Baptists," said Beatrice Carrol, recalling that students at the school weren't allowed to swim or dance in mixed company.

After arriving in Belton, the Carrols decided to get a dog, partly because Louis was frequently on the road. He wanted a good watchdog. She wanted a cocker spaniel. Boots turned out to be both.

A little more than a year later, they took Boots to a breeder. She gave birth, that June, to a litter -- Bea says eight puppies, Lou says nine. That summer, Beatrice, pregnant with their first son, cared for the pups while Louis was making sales trips.

On one such trip that July, Lou was in Tyler, Texas, when he picked up a newspaper and read an interview with Pat Nixon, whose husband had earlier that month been chosen as Eisenhower's running mate. In the interview, Pat was quoted as saying she wanted to get a dog for their two young daughters, Tricia and Julie.

For Louis Carrol, a Republican and fan of the young Communist-fighting senator, the inspiration was instantaneous.

"Back in those days they still had Western Union," he recalls. "So I marched on over to Western Union and wrote a telegram. ..."

" 'On behalf of the great state of Texas, I wish to offer the Nixons a cocker spaniel puppy, purebred and registered,' " Carrol said, remembering how his message began.

"And I sent it on its way to Richard Nixon in the Senate."

It was dated July 22, 1952.

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