It’s the birthday of President Richard Milhous Nixon, born in Yorba Linda, California (1913). He grew up poor in a Quaker family in the town of Whittier, where his family ran a grocery store and gas station. He won a scholarship to Harvard, but his parents needed his help in the store, so he attended a local college. He went on to Duke University School of Law, then returned to Whittier to work as an attorney. During an audition for a community theater production, he met a high school stenography teacher named Pat Ryan. He was immediately smitten, although it took her longer to come around; at first she was uninterested, but he was so determined that he even drove her to dates with other men. After they started dating, it was another two years before she finally agreed to marry him. He called her his “Irish gypsy.” In one letter, Nixon wrote: “Every day and every night I want to see you and be with you. Yet I have no feeling of selfish ownership or jealousy. Let’s go for a long ride Sunday; let’s go to the mountains weekends; let’s read books in front of fires; most of all, let’s really grow together and find the happiness we know is ours.”
He served in the Navy during World War II, and he learned to play poker, which was forbidden under his strict Quaker upbringing. He asked a friend for a guaranteed way to win, and the friend said sure, but it’s a boring way to play: drop out of every hand unless you’re sure you have the best one. Nixon did just that, staying away from high-stakes hands, winning $20 here and $40 there. By the end of the war, he had made almost $10,000, and he used his poker earnings to fund his first political campaign. He unseated a five-time Democratic congressman and was elected to Congress with 60 percent of the vote.