Staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON -- Richard M. Nixon will always be remembered as the first president forced to resign. But this dubious distinction will share pages in U.S. history books with the bold policy strokes that marked his 5 1/2-year presidency.

He died Friday at 81, having never recovered from a stroke he suffered Monday at his home in Park Ridge, N.J. His daughters, Julie Eisenhower and Tricia Cox, were by his side.

Nixon, the nation's 37th president and the first to resign the office, never regained consciousness after he sank into a coma Thursday at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.

He had left a living will that said he wanted no extraordinary measures taken to prolong his life and he was not put on a respirator, which might have relieved swelling in the brain. It is unlikely he could have recovered from partial paralysis and loss of speech.

Clearly, Nixon's overtures to China and the "detente" he achieved with the Soviet Union will long be viewed as Nixon's prime international policy achievements. But he also left a rich legacy of activist environmental and social programs.

Watergate aside, Nixon's accomplishments already being viewed more substantially by many historians than those of the arch-rival who defeated him in his 1960 bid for the presidency, Democrat John F. Kennedy.

"He'll be remembered as one of the significant presidents of the century both for good and for bad," said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas.

Members of the University of Arizona community remembered Nixon for his foreign policy advances.

"Despite the quagmire of Watergate, he should be known for the establishment of (foreign policy)," said Kayo Conner, a UA political science graduate and former College Republicans chairman. "It was unfortunate what Nixon did, but many other presidents have done the same and have never been caught. He was a good steward of the public."

"I think that up to date Nixon was about the best," Conner said. "He didn't back down from the Russians and kept a steady balance during the Cold War."

There is no denying that he will go down as one of the most fascinating and complex politicians of U.S. history.

"His contribution is really remarkable," said William P. Rogers, Nixon's first secretary of state and now a New York lawyer.

"He almost single-handedly made it possible for China to re-enter the world community. At the same time, he was able to maintain delicate balance with the Soviet Union. He did it with shrewdness and perseverance."

Allen Whiting, a UA political science professor, advised Nixon in preparation for his trip to China and advised Henry Kissinger on Chinese foreign policy.

"(Nixon) brought the Vietnam War to a close, although more casualties were suffered by Americans while he was trying to bring it to a close," Whiting said. "Watergate was a domestic blot on his record that he made worse by attempting to lie."

Nixon's overtures to China "helped to change not only U.S. foreign policy but also international relations," Whiting said.

"He should be remembered for both of those things (Watergate and his foreign policy)," said Lyn Ragsdale, UA associate political science professor.

Even those savaged politically by Nixon give him high marks.

"The opening to China and the establishment of detente were his two most historic achievements," said former Sen. George McGovern, the South Dakota Democrat whom Nixon trounced in his 1972 re-election landslide.

And while McGovern cautioned risky to try to evaluate someone historically" so soon, he said Nixon "went a great way toward restoring himself as a respected figure, especially on foreign policy" after leaving office. many domestic initiatives that do not square with the image of the hardline conservative champion of the "silent majority."

Community blockgrants and the housing program that helps subsidize the rents of poor people bear his stamp, as does the indexing of Social Security benefits to inflation.

Nixon waged a frontal assult on inlation by imposing wage and price controls. He created the Environmental Protection Agency and won adoption of two landmark environmental laws the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.

His revenue-sharing program was an innovative way of aiding strapped local governments without bureaucratic red tape. He lent his support to legislation that expanded the food stamp, school milk and Women Infants and Children welfare programs.

His attempt to get Congress to enact a national employer-mandate health insurance program preceded President Clinton's efforts by more than two decades.

"I think history will treat Nixon kindly. The Watergate business will recede. People will see he was a person who had very big ambitions for improvement in policy," said economist Herbert Stein, chairman of Nixon's Council of Economic Advisers.

"As time goes by, the thing that people will remember about Nixon is here was a guy who was never loved and yet who managed to put a lot of stuff through Congress, who kept coming back again and again from defeat," said Lyn Nofziger, who worked for both Presidents Nixon and Reagan.

Still, there was the dark side of Nixon. And the Watergate scandal will remain the first reference to Nixon in most history books.

In the end, Republican memebers of Congress had to persuade Nixon to resign rather than face certain impeachment for his role in the Watergate burglary coverup and other government misdeeds.

"One side of Nixon is the highly skillful political leader. The other side is a mysteriously flawed person. And this was known throughout his entire career," said Erwin Hargrove, a presidential historian at Vanderbilt University. "And for that reason, Nixon will never be in the American canon of great presidents."

But Stephen Hess, a speechwriter for Nixon in the 1960s who worked in the early Nixon White House, predicted Nixon would be the second most written-about president of the 20th century after Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Nixon "cared a great deal about his place in history," Hess said. "That's probably why he kept tapes." Read Next Article