When Pat Ryan married Richard Nixon his career aspirations unwillingly thrust her into the political world. However, she mastered this life and became a greatly admired first lady.
Thelma Louise Ryan was born in Ely, Nevada on March 16, 1912. When her father, William Ryan, came home from his job in the mines shortly before dawn on March 17 he gave his baby daughter her lifelong nickname, Pat. Soon the family moved to California where a life of hard work and little money continued. When her mother, Kate Ryan, died in 1925, Pat became the housekeeper for her father and two older brothers. Pat was on her own at age 18 when her father also died. Through a variety of part-time jobs she managed to get through the University of Southern California where she graduated cum laude in 1937.
She began teaching at a high school in Whittier, California, which was the same town where Richard Nixon was establishing a law practice. They met at Little Theatre Group and were married on June 21, 1940. Nixon was in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the two exchanged letters daily. Following the war, the future president ran for the 12th Congressional seat from California. Pat Nixon became an active campaigner even though friends reported she didn't enjoy meeting the crowds or political life in general. During the next six years she was at her husband's side as he was elected to the House, the Senate, and then Vice-President under President Dwight Eisenhower. She also raised two daughters, Tricia and Julie, and jealously guarded the family's privacy. Political observers noted that she always had a kind smile and never lost her temper in public.
For the most part, Pat Nixon enjoyed life as the wife of a vice president, and hoped her husband's political ambitions would end there. She was quite upset when he decided to run for president against John Kennedy. Following her husband's narrow defeat, the Nixons entered private life in California and Pat Nixon enjoyed renewing old friendships. But this non-political time was short lived, as Nixon unsuccessfully ran for governor of California just two years later, in 1962. Once again Pat Nixon felt their family was out of the limelight when they moved to New York following this defeat. But she became his staunchest supporter during his successful 1968 presidential campaign.
Pat Nixon used her influence as first lady to encourage volunteer service. She also liked being hostess to foreign dignitaries and American celebrities and was able to successful keep a formal dinner party from being stuffy. She made many goodwill tours, including a historic visit to the People's Republic of China and the summit meeting in the Soviet Union. She organized nondenominational Sunday worship services in the White House. Her role in significantly remodeling the White House included the acquisition of over 600 paintings and antiques.
The Watergate scandal destroyed Pat Nixon's pleasure in her role as first lady. Pat Nixon, as well as their two daughters, wanted Nixon to stay in office and fight the charges against him, but he resigned in disgrace in 1974. The family returned to California where Pat Nixon went into seclusion. In 1976 Pat Nixon suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed on the left side. The former president and first lady moved to the New York City area in 1980 to be near their daughters and grandchildren.
Pat Nixon died on June 22, 1993 and her husband died less than a year later. Both are buried at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California.