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Ron Ziegler, Nixon press secretary, dies

Feb. 10, 2003 at 11:28 PM   |   Comments

SAN DIEGO, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Ron Ziegler, the Nixon press secretary who dismissed the Watergate break-in that brought down a presidency as a third-rate burglary, died Monday. He was 63.

Ziegler reportedly died of a heart attack at his home in a suburb of San Diego.

He had been linked with President Nixon since the latter's 1962 gubernatorial run in California and stayed with Nixon in his comeback that led to the White House.

But it was during the Watergate investigation that Ziegler became best known. Ziegler often was called "the voice of Nixon" and spoke for the president when it was considered expedient for him to do so.

As Nixon's press secretary, he was known for his professional ability, even though he had not taken the traditional road -- involving positions in the print or electronic media -- to the press secretary's office.

During the investigation following the 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate, Ziegler chided the media for "too much dwelling on Watergate" during a 1974 news conference with the president. Two days after the break-in her termed the event as a "third-rate burglary," adding that "certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it is." Nixon had Ziegler deny that anyone in the White House had anything to do with Watergate.

After several White House aides resigned because of Watergate, Ziegler made a public apology to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the story and eventually linked it to the White House. The events led to Nixon's resignation on Aug. 9, 1974.

Ziegler had served Nixon before the presidential election. He handled Nixon's ill-starred gubernatorial campaign in California in 1962, the year that the loser to incumbent Gov. Pat Brown predicted, "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore."

Six years later, after he had changed his mind, Nixon successfully sought the Republican presidential nomination and after winning the election again tapped Ziegler to be his spokesman.

Ziegler was born May 12, 1939, in Covington, Ky. He was an all-state high school fullback. He also lettered in baseball and track, winning an athletic scholarship to Xavier University, across the Ohio River border in Cincinnati.

While Ziegler was a freshman at Xavier, his father was transferred to Los Angeles. Ziegler joined his family in California that summer and got a job at Disneyland. In September, he transferred from Xavier to the University of Southern California.

In 1960, Ziegler became president of the Young Republicans on the USC campus and campaigned for Nixon in his losing bid for the presidency against Sen. John F. Kennedy.

His real entry into politics came following his graduation from USC when California's GOP chairman, John Kriebel, hired him as press representative for Republican legislators during a special session of the legislature.

Then he was assigned as traveling press aide to Nixon in the unsuccessful campaign against Brown, working under the supervision of Press Secretary Herbert Klein.

At the time of Nixon's return to politics in 1968, Ziegler was working at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency as an administrative assistant to H. R. Haldeman, manager of the Los Angeles office and later Nixon's chief of staff.

At J. Walter Thompson, Ziegler handled accounts for the 7-Up Bottling Co., Blue Chip saving stamps, KNBC-TV, and Disneyland. During this period Ziegler also did part-time volunteer work for George Murphy's successful U.S. Senate race in 1964 and Robert Finch's winning lieutenant governor's race in 1966.

Ziegler was married to the former Nancy Lee, his sweetheart at Heights High School in Covington. They had two children, Cindy and Laurie.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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