Most of his classmates are well into retirement, but Ed Nixon '52 keeps adding to his résumé. Already president of the trade and investment firm Nixon World Enterprises and chair of a group devoted to solar energy, Nixon has yet another job title: author.
The Nixons: A Family Portrait, released in May by the Book Publishers Network, traces the many triumphs and falls of his late brother President Richard M. Nixon LL.B. '37 and what they meant for the family. The book, coauthored by Karen Olson, recalls, in detail, what it meant to grow up among the Nixons—a close-knit, hard-working, devoutly Quaker family that endured the early deaths of two of Ed's four older brothers.
"A biographical sketch from inside the family reveals things that even the best biographers can never achieve," Nixon says. The book does not provide any startling new revelations about President Nixon or his family, but that was never the intent. "The point was to portray the family as it was, to show what an ordinary family can produce," says Nixon. Jonathan Aitken, an award-winning biographer of President Nixon, calls the book "an enthralling read, full of rare insights into life on the inside of the Nixon family."
Seventeen years younger than his famous brother, Ed Nixon is accomplished in his own right. One of only two geology majors in his class at Duke, he earned a master's degree at North Carolina State University and embarked on a long career with companies involved in earth science. His mission: advocating for the responsible use of natural resources around the world. In 2004, Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment awarded Nixon its Ralston Distinguished Alumni Award for his contributions to the field.
Nixon almost didn't make it to Duke. After attending high school in Penn-sylvania, he planned to go to college in California, where his family had lived for many years. As he writes in his book, "Dick had other ideas. One weekend he came to our farm and said, 'Let's drive down to Duke so you can see what's available.' At first I resisted, saying, 'But I want to go to Stanford or Caltech to study engineering.' Then Dick asked, 'How can you be sure of a decision if your judgment is based on a limited awareness of what's available?' Knowing it was no use to argue with Dick, I asked, 'May I drive?' "
Nixon, who lives in Lynnwood, Washington, still enjoys hitting the road. He has logged more than thirty trips to China since the 1980s for various business ventures and still returns there periodically. In recent months, he has crisscrossed the U.S. doing readings from his book, including an event at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California. The book, he tells audiences, is essentially about strong families and how the health of the nation depends on them. With two daughters and two granddaughters, he finds it a theme that remains central to his own life.
Still, after ten years of working on his book, he'll think twice before writing another one. "I learned that writing books is something I don't want to do on a full-time basis," he says. "You really have to turn yourself inside out."
America Commonweal U.S. News & World Report
Ed Nixon '52
Recording family memories
November 30, 2009