It was December of 1965 that I first looked on the friendly Irish face of Anne Volz, outside the law office of Richard M. Nixon.
Anne was Nixon’s receptionist, and she ushered me into a small office behind her where one encountered the formidable presence of Rose Mary Woods.
For 18 months, through that 1966 election, Anne, Rose and I worked in that tiny space with a volunteer who answered the phone as “Mrs. Ryan.”
Mrs. Ryan was the future first lady Pat Nixon
Anne became my big sister. She brought me cigarettes. She brought me my cheeseburger and vanilla shake at lunch. She even tried to find me a nice Catholic girl. Anne invited me to join her and her boyfriend George at a dance at the New York Athletic Club for Catholic bachelors and spinsters.
It was not a good fit. But, as ever, Anne meant well.
In the spring of 1967, Nixon’s receptionist from his days as vice president, a Shelley Scarney, returned, and Anne was put in charge of the rising volume of mail Nixon was receiving. She had her life’s vocation. Anne would be in charge of the correspondence for three U.S. presidents.
And Miss Scarney found her life’s vocation, as my wife.
Anne, Shelley, Rose and I traveled together during that campaign of 1968. And we went together into the White House.
Anne and George were married, and were as happy and devoted a couple as I have ever seen. They lived in Columbia Plaza in Washington, D.C., but had privileges at the Watergate. Every evening, they would go to swim at the Watergate, where Shelley was living. Many were the nights the four of us would go out together.
Among Anne’s extraordinary qualities was ferocious loyalty to those she loved, especially George.
And George could be a contentious man. He had quit the FBI, and one of his grievances with this world, that he did not let you forget, was J. Edgar Hoover. There was a problem here. My uncle, Tom Jenkins, an FBI agent since the John Dillinger era, revered Hoover, and had risen under Hoover to become assistant director of the FBI.
At an Irish wake for my brother Bill, at my father’s house, I found George in the kitchen, with Tom Jenkins, explaining to this former FBI assistant director what a loser J. Edgar Hoover was.
I thought I was going to have to break up a fight.
Anne assured me George had been right about Hoover.
When I returned to the White House under President Reagan as director of communications, Anne was chief of correspondence, and her office was in my portfolio. And in the White House turf battles, I protected Anne and she protected me.
Every Friday, at President Reagan’s direction, Anne would select 30 letters that the president would take to Camp David to read, respond to and return to Anne on Monday.
And every Monday, senior staff had lunch with President Reagan.
At these lunches, the president would start off reading a letter. I recall one. It was from a woman in her 80s whose husband had left her when she was 40 and pregnant. She had thought of having an abortion, but prayed and decided to give birth.
Now, that baby boy, 40 years later, was taking care of her in her old age.
“Isn’t that a beautiful story?” said Reagan.
As we walked out of the lunch, one of the president’s senior advisers said to me in exasperation, “Where does he get these letters?”
He got those letters from Anne, who saw to it the president’s reading file always contained pro-life letters.
As my sister Kathleen, who was working in Anne’s shop, said, “Anne has turned White House Correspondence into a chapter of Opus Dei.”
When I think of Anne, I think of three qualities.
First is loyalty. Loyalty to her beloved George, loyalty to her Catholic faith, loyalty to her friends. As I can testify.
In 1991, when I ran against President George H.W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination, Anne did not hesitate to sign on. Indeed, she became a Buchanan delegate in the Washington, D.C., primary and called all my friends to demand that they, too, become delegates for Pat Buchanan in a campaign to dump a Republican president, even though that meant social, political and economic suicide. Those who didn’t sign on got an earful from Anne.
The second quality is courage. Few have suffered as Anne did for 30 years, from one form of cancer after another. Nor can I think of any who bore so much suffering with fewer complaints.
My late father used to have a saying, “Offer it up.” Offer up any pain for the souls in purgatory. That is what Anne did for half of her life.
The third quality is compassion, especially for these, the least of my children, the Lord said, the unborn. From that awful day, Jan. 22, 1973, when Roe v. Wade came down, Anne was a fighting champion of the unborn. No hero of the movement did more.
The cause of life was the life cause of Anne Higgins, for which God bless her, as I am confident he has rewarded her — with eternal life.
Anne Higgins was a saint who walked among us.