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'He was not a villain': Rewriting the history of Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
President Richard Nixon, with his brothers Ed (left) and Donald (right) in 1970.


This story originally aired on April 20, 2019.


What if history cast someone you admire as the villain?

If you’re Edward Nixon, longtime resident of Lynnwood, Washington, you spend your life telling the parts of the story that don’t wind up in the textbooks.

Ed died Feb. 27, 2019 in Bothell.

He was the younger brother of President Richard Nixon, a man that history will forever associate with one word: Watergate. As a quick refresher, Nixon was found to have abused his power to investigate and harass political enemies. Sixty-nine people were indicted, 48 were found guilty and Nixon himself resigned from office on Aug. 9, 1974.

But Ed, 17 years Richard’s junior, never wavered. And later in life, he found a kindred spirit and collaborator in Karen Olson.

Olson and Ed Nixon would go on to write a book together, “The Nixons: A Family Portrait.” But Olson’s connections to the family go back much further.

“I have had 60 years of Nixon involvement in my life in some way," said Olson, who lives in Kenmore. "He really impacted my life.”

Olson’s connection to Richard Nixon began when she was just an 11-year-old girl, writing letters to the then-vice president. As time went on, Nixon would often write back.

Then, in 1962, Richard and Pat Nixon came to the Seattle World’s Fair. For Olson, the timing could not have been worse. She was scheduled to have surgery on her feet and wouldn’t be able to go see Nixon. She wrote her regrets in a letter and sent it to him.

Then on the day he came to town, Karen’s mother opened the paper and was surprised to see one item in particular: Richard Nixon would be coming to her house to visit her bedridden daughter.

“My mother woke me up, banging on the door and she came in and said, ‘what’s this about Nixon coming to our house?’” Olson said.

Nixon arrived with his small entourage, and visited with the entire family. He asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up, and Karen Olson said she didn’t know.

“He told me that I should be a writer,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t go visit everybody who writes me a letter!’ And I remember thinking, I’d like to write a book about you and your family.”

That opportunity came many years later, in 1998, when she met Edward Nixon.

Karen Olson joined us in our studio to talk about the sides of Richard Nixon few talk about today, and how the Nixon brothers forged a lifelong bond that endured even in the president's darkest hours.


Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.