Friends, family, colleagues celebrate the 37th president

An overflow crowd gathered at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington Wednesday night to toast one of America???s most controversial and fascinating political leaders on what would have been his 100th birthday.

Organized by the Richard Nixon Foundation and the Nixon family, the Richard Nixon Centennial Birthday Gala and Reunion brought together friends of the 37th president, major players in his stormy political career, and colleagues from his presidency. Old Nixon hands such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (see above) and longtime speechwriter Pat Buchanan were joined by Republican politicians such as former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (who helped run the Nixon presidential campaign in his home state in 1968), former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson (who was GOP counsel to the Watergate hearings in 1973-74), and sophomore Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey (who delightedly proved to be quite an authority on Nixon???s political career).

Three generations of Nixon family members joined the crowd, including Richard???s younger brother Ed Nixon, daughters Tricia Cox and Julie Eisenhower, and just-married grandson and New York attorney Christopher Nixon Cox. Jetting cross-country for the event was 99-year-old Hubert Perry, who played football with the young Nixon at Whittier (Cal.) College.

Recalling Nixon???s accomplishments on the foreign policy front, onetime White House speechwriter and sometime entertainer Ben Stein cited ending the Vietnam War in 1973 with South Vietnam a free nation until two years later (when the Democratic Congress cut off military aid and it was overrun by the Communist North) and rescuing Israel by putting U.S. forces on red alert during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

???I will never turn my back on Nixon the peacemaker!??? declared Stein, to loud cheers.

???You are all part of our extended family,??? daughter Tricia told the audience, nearly all of whom had stayed with her father throughout his stormy career and against regular assaults by the liberal media. In holding the audience spellbound as he took them through Nixon???s 30 years in politics, Buchanan said he wished ???the boss??? was here so he could hear him say to the Nixon-hating liberals the words of Nick Caraway to the Great Gatsby: ???They are such a rotten lot, sir, and you are worth the whole damn bunch put together.??? Nixon???s ???extended family??? loved it.

Another former Nixon aide, Fred Male, then went on to spell out what Buchanan said when he dubbed the Republican Party of the last third of the 20th century ???the house than Nixon built.??? Out of Nixon???s White House and administration, Male said, ???came two future vice presidents and president, five U.S. Senators, two governors four secretaries of state, two treasury secretaries, a future secretary of defense, three future secretaries of labor,??? and such influential figures as future Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, who commenced his career in government under President Nixon.

The crowd sang ???Happy Birthday??? accompanied by a film of Nixon himself playing the tune while President, and all toasted a night???and a President???that they will surely always remember.