- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Rose Mary Woods, the devoted secretary to President Nixon who said she inadvertently erased part of a crucial Watergate tape, has died. She was 87.

Miss Woods died Saturday night at a nursing home in Alliance, said Roger Ruzek, owner of a funeral home in Sebring, yesterday. He did not know the cause of death.

The 18-minute gap in the tape of a June 20, 1972, conversation between Mr. Nixon and Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman was critical to the question of what Mr. Nixon knew about the break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington three days earlier — and when he knew it.

Miss Woods, who moved to northeastern Ohio after leaving the White House staff in 1976, never talked much about her years with the only American president to resign the office.

Mr. Nixon considered her a member of the family. He wrote in his memoirs that it was Miss Woods he asked to inform first lady Pat Nixon and his daughters in 1974 that he had decided to resign Aug. 9.

“My decision was irrevocable, and I asked her to suggest that we not talk about it anymore when I went over for dinner,” Mr. Nixon said.

When the time came for the family to privately say goodbye to Mr. Nixon before he climbed aboard the helicopter headed for Air Force One, Miss Woods stood by with Mrs. Nixon, daughters Tricia and Julie, and their husbands.

“Rose … is as close to us as family,” Mr. Nixon said.

Miss Woods, the granddaughter of an Irish stowaway, was born in Sebring, 20 miles southwest of Youngstown, on Dec. 26, 1917, and was raised in a strict Roman Catholic family.

She worked as a pottery company secretary in Sebring, then moved to Washington to become a typist on Capitol Hill, where she caught the eye of Mr. Nixon, then a promising young Republican congressman from California.

Nixon biographer Jonathan Aitken said the two hit it off immediately. Mr. Nixon hired Miss Woods as his secretary after he was elected to the Senate in 1950.

“She was intelligent, literate, clamlike in her discretion. Technically superb, she possessed the high-speed skills of shorthand and typing necessary to keep up with her boss’s often frantic and always demanding schedule,” Mr. Aitken wrote. “Disciplined in her emotions yet passionate in her convictions, Woods was intuitive, protective and obsessive about privacy.”

Miss Woods denied she caused the full 18-minute gap on the key 1972 tape, testifying later that she inadvertently erased four or five minutes. The phone rang while she was transcribing the tape, she said.

She said she accidentally hit the record button. A panel of authorities set up in the 1970s by federal Judge John Sirica, who presided over the Watergate criminal trials, concluded that the erasures were done in at least five — and perhaps as many as nine — separate and contiguous segments.

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