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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2
   

On The Job: A Nixon Man

John H. Taylor, Muir ’80
By Neda Oreizy, ’08

Taylor is executive director of the Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation in Yorba Linda, Calif.

 
     

John Taylor was supposed to be a journalist like his parents. At UC San Diego he was editor-in-chief of the Triton Times and imagined his future held a career in the media. But a chance connection through Samuel Kernell, a UCSD political science professor, changed all of that. After an invitation to write a few research papers, Taylor was offered an internship with former President Richard Nixon and his life and career path changed.

When he graduated, that internship turned into a fulltime research position, then into a chief aide post, and finally, in 1990, Taylor became executive director for the new Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation in Yorba Linda, Calif.

Because of the legal wrangling that surrounded Nixon’s White House records, the library, unlike other presidential libraries, operated for 17 years as a private entity. Then in July 2007, the Nixon library finally became part of the National Archives system, when it joined with the other 11 Presidential libraries. Presidential scholar Timothy Naftali became first director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, and Taylor remained as executive director of the Library & Birthplace Foundation, managing both the Foundation and the grounds of the Nixon birthplace. The conclusion of the legal obstacles will also mean the eventual transfer of 44 million pages of textual records currently housed at the National Archives College Park facility in Maryland, although the current plan is that the original 3,000 hours of presidential tape recordings will remain in the Washington, DC area.

When Nixon died in 1994, Taylor was named one of two co-executors of the estate. He has considered himself a Nixon man for 27 years, but it has not all been good—for the first half of those Taylor says that he was almost rancorous in support of Nixon’s tarnished presidency. “I think what had happened was that I had become personally wrapped up in it and I was perceiving attacks on him as one would attacks on their dad in the school yard.” He later realized that it wasn’t helping Nixon’s image, changing any minds or healthy for himself.

At 40, Taylor had dealt with years of legal entanglement in his career and a broken marriage at home, leading him to a moment of mid-life reconsideration. After realizing that the missing element in his life was religion, he entered Claremont University’s seminary with the support of his family and the Nixon Foundation Board. He was ordained in January 2004 as a priest in the Episcopal Church and assigned as a vicar of St. John’s Church and School in Santa Margarita. “It was processing pain and brokenness and weakness and vulnerability and all the things that end up being the tools of ministry,” Taylor says.

Taylor now divides his time between the Nixon Library and St. John’s. That means that his schedule can be pretty unpredictable, ranging from managing the Nixon Foundation and the Library, planning exhibits and events at the museum and writing articles for the Foundation’s website, to dedicating a new organ and whatever else the day brings at the church.

During a recent weekend, he met with musicians for the men’s retreat, led a marital counseling session, performed three services and a funeral, made some pastoral calls, attended a church potluck and a barbeque for volunteers at the library. He also regularly teaches religion to the fifth grade class at the school. “As with many jobs, it’s unpredictable. What I like is that it gives me permission not to worry so much about what I’m going to do tomorrow.”

Managing relationships is a key feature of his work, especially with the headmaster at St. John’s School and Naftali, the new director at the library. “Being in these sorts of dual partnerships means that I have to be attuned to my own ego,” Taylor says. “It is good training for all of the relationships I am in.”

Taylor relaxes away from these two worlds, by listening to his favorite alternative-country music, drinking coffee as he blogs at newnixon.org with his friends. He also writes about Nixon, the election and foreign policy, as well as culture, music and movies.

Taylor finds it is easy to write about the former president, and says that he finds parallels between his own and Nixon’s philosophy. In a lot of ways, he is a moderate pragmatist and believes the same political philosophy drove Nixon in his domestic policy, manifesting itself in the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, Title IX on women’s collegiate sports and pushed him to launch the war on cancer.

Both at the library and the church, Taylor finds himself called upon to be a moderate—sometimes even a radical moderate—who has to stand up for change. “Sometimes change is needed, and one has to act,” Taylor says. “So the moderate has to be prepared when that time comes—when you have to stand up and say, I’m drawing a line in the sand.”
Taylor never envisioned that he would be in either of these two positions, with religion on one side and politics on the other, but he sees such surprises as God’s sense of humor. In retrospect, it feels completely natural to be where he is in life. And the bonus is that he enjoys sitting amid history and telling its stories to the future.

Neda Oreizy, ’08, is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.

RELATED LINKS

"When Nixon died in 1994, Taylor was named one of two co-executors of the estate. He has considered himself a Nixon man for 27 years..."