Former Nixon aide recalls prepping for presidential travel

President Nixon's Presidential Limousine, a gift of the Ford Motor Company, has been recently added to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
President Nixon's Presidential Limousine, a gift of the Ford Motor Company, has been recently added to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

In honor of President’s Day, you can get into the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda for free. Part of the celebration includes a panel discussion today from 1:30-3:30 p.m. with four former Nixon aides on how they scheduled the president.

One of those aides is Nixon Foundation President Ron Walker. He was the first head of the White House Office of Presidential Advance.

He was in charge of President Nixon’s travel plans — everything from airport arrivals to the motorcade to hotel stays.

Walker says he had five people in his office, compared to the 25 to 30 in President Obama’s Office of Presidential Advance. Walker says technology’s grown dramatically, too.

"I mean, we did schedules on a manual and/or electrical typewriter," Walker says. "There were no Xeroxes. We had a TWX, which was similar to a telegraph. All our schedules had to be typed on an electrical typewriter and then the schedule was put on 3-by-5 cards."

"And now you’ve got Blackberries. I mean, you get instant answers," Walker says as he thinks about what he had to go through in the 1970s. "I’d have to write a memo. It would go up the channel. And it may be two or three days before I get an answer. Now they put it on their Blackberry and they’ve got an answer almost immediately. So the world has changed, not only technology, but the speed of sound."

"I mean, there were only three networks, if you look back at us — ABC, CBS, NBC — and then the wires," Walker remembers. "Now you’ve got, you know, all the cables and Facebook and Twitter and everything else. It’s just instant news."

Walker says with all of the new technology, it might be fun to try his old job again. He says it's still a matter of timing and organization.

He says President Nixon would ask his aides to create a certain event, whether it be a speaking engagement, meeting with a foreign leader or visiting a part of the country.

"But it was staffed out in the White House to the Domestic Council, to the National Security Council. Speech writers would be involved. You know, the White House Photographer's Office would be involved. And then you'd have to involve the Secret Service, the White House Communications Agency, the Military Aides Office, which had all of the ground transportation to include helicopters, Air Force One — you know, all the components that are there," Walker says, as he lists everyone involved in coordinating a presidential event.

"We had television consultants. We had a Press Office, a Press Advance. And so it was just a whole, complicated mirage of things you had to pull together and make sure it worked," Walker recounts.

Walker says just like today, everything had to work like clockwork so the President could move along and get to his events on time.

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