44 Years Later, a Washington, D.C. Death Unresolved

Mary Pinchot Meyer’s death remains a mystery. But it’s her life that holds more interest now

Mary's marriage to Cord Meyer would reflect Washington's gender dramas. (Bettman / Corbis)
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Nixon's own wife went a separate and, when possible, more private road. An attractive, able, courageous woman, Pat Nixon had no interest in banging her head against the Washington wall that my mother banged her head against. She regarded women like my mother, media types, as the enemy. She settled into what turned out to be the complicated fate of being Mrs. Richard Nixon.

My mother had two marriages and seven children. She was an avid, headlong and brilliantly self-educated woman (married at 15!) who wanted a great deal (motherhood, a career as a great writer, lovers). Her fate was complicated as well.

Mary Meyer did not survive. My mother did. She lived to be 84. She thought now and then of writing a memoir called Before My Time. On a drizzly morning not many months ago, as she had wished, my brothers and my sister and I brought her ashes—coarse, grainy, salt-and-pepper ashes, all that was left of a vivid life—to the bank of the Potomac above Great Falls and scattered them on the surface of the brown, swollen river. The ashes swirled off downstream toward Washington, and for a second I imagined them floating down by Georgetown, passing over a pistol in the mud.

Lance Morrow, a former essayist for Time, is writing a biography of Henry Luce.


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