Nixon's ETSU Visit

This poster advertised then-President Nixon’s visit to Northeast Tennessee.

In 1968 I was 10 years old.

Now you know how old I am, for some reason people think I am in my 40s, but nope. I think I am 25, and no, I do not color my hair. I have had people argue with me about my age and my hair color for years. I do not know why 40-year-old people with gray hair, or no hair, worry about my hair. I worked with a couple guys whose nicknames where “Old Man” and “Grandpa” and both were 10 years younger than me at the time, and that was 15 years ago.

In 1968 I had a flattop. When you had a flattop, you bought a jar of “Butchwax” and that is how you got the flattop to stand up. My cousin Buddy taught me that trick. I would open the jar, dig out about three fingers worth of the stuff and smear it all over my head. Then you took a brush that later I used to comb horses and cows’ tails and ran it backwards to make the hair stand up.

People including cousin Buddy asked me why I put so much of that stuff on my head. Nobody ever taught me or showed me and the three-fingers-worth worked for me.

In 1968 Oliver Burkey talked my Dad into collecting money for United Fund (later United Way). Since Dad was a farmer, he put the job off on me. That first year I took all the blank envelopes and peddled my bicycle all over Sunnyside collecting money for the “United Fund.” I gave people an envelope to fill out, they put their nickel, dime, quarter or dollar, a few even put in a five and handed it back to me. I put it in the box in my bicycle basket and went to the next house. The next year, I got envelopes with the person’s name on it and what they had given the year before.

I thought this was funny, and I would go up and ask “Since you gave a dime last year, could you give a quarter, or maybe even a dollar this year? Those printed envelopes gave the operation a bit more legitimacy, and I increased the amount we collected. The cheapskates mostly upped the ante. My Dad got to go to United Fund Drive dinners and was recognized for the fine job he was doing in increasing his collections each year. I have clippings of him on front of The Greeneville Sun for doing such a fine job canvasing his community.

He must have “fessed up,” because a gentleman by the name of LeRoy B. Bible came out to the farm one day and asked Dad if he could talk to me. He said that since I had done such a fine job for the United Fund, he would like to ask me if I would help him out. He asked how I would like to be Richard Nixon’s youngest campaign volunteer?

He left me with a pile of Nixon/Agnew bumper stickers and a whole sack of buttons. I peddled all over Sunnyside giving out Nixon/Agnew bumper stickers and buttons. I took them to school, gave all my friends stickers and buttons. We stuck them on teachers’ cars, on bathroom stalls, lockers, coatracks – we were into campaigning for Nixon!

When LeRoy B. Bible stopped by to check on me, he replenished my supply of Nixon stuff. I rode to town and gave out Nixon buttons and stickers. I went down Depot Street and put them under people’s wiper blades. I ended up at Super Dollar and, trying to be helpful, applied them to people’s bumpers.

I was happy that Nixon won since I felt that I had done my part to help him. LeRoy B. Bible would again have me working for Howard Baker, Winfield Dunn and Bill Brock.

In October of 1970 he came to see my Dad. He had arranged for me to meet Nixon before a political gathering in Johnson City. He told Dad if it was okay, he would pick me up take to me Johnson City, meet Nixon and bring me back home.

On Tuesday Oct. 20, 1970, I stayed home from school and took a bath (my Mom instructed me to wash behind my ears). A couple days before, my Aunt Arlene had cut my nails and told me I was not going to shake the president’s hand with those nasty fingernails.

I put my three fingers worth of butch wax in my hair brushed it back and dressed. I wore my black Sunday church/funeral attending suit, white shirt, black tie. I was ready.

LeRoy B. Bible picked me up at 10 a.m. and we rode to Johnson City. He didn’t talk a whole lot on the way, just saying things like “Are you excited to meet the president?” “Be sure to let him know you are his youngest volunteer.”

We arrived at ETSU and parking was a bit of a pain, but LeRoy had a pass to park. He also had a pass for himself and me. When we got to the door of the building, a gentleman took the paper, went inside and came back to the door with Congressman Jimmy Quillen. Bible introduced me to Quillen, who asked who my parents were. He said he knew them. I had my doubts, but it made me feel good.

Quillen took us to the reception line. I am sure we were there before everyone else because we seemed to have come in the back door, and there were not many people around. LeRoy told me we were just meeting Nixon and leaving. He told me we could not stay for the reception.

Quillen introduced me to Bill Jenkins, Winfield Dunn, Howard Baker, and Bill Brock. Seems like Tom Garland was there too. Then there he was, dark gray suit, trim, and his hair looked like he used butch wax, too. Quillen said, “Mr. President, this young man from Greene County is your youngest campaign volunteer.” Nixon leaned over, took my hand and asked my name. I said, “Tim Massey.” He said, “It is nice to meet you young man, I appreciate all your hard work for my campaign. I hope you plan to work just as hard for these other gentlemen.” I said, “Yes sir.” Then he asked, “Are you related to the Pennsylvania Masseys?” I said, “No, sir, I’m a Tennessee Massey.”

Nixon let out a big chuckle, then he did the unthinkable. Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the United States took his right hand and rubbed me on the head. Back and forth then a little circle. He got at least two fingers worth of my butch wax on his hand. No sooner had he removed his hand than I was being whisked back out the door by Quillen and Mr. Bible.

I glanced back as we were going out the door and saw Nixon talking to Bill Brock with his right hand on Brocks left shoulder. Nixon seemed to be patting or rubbing Brock’s shoulder, but I knew he was wiping that grease off his hand. I could never think of Bill Brock without thinking about that incident. I always wondered if when he got home Mrs. Brock said, “Bill, how did you get this greasy spot on your jacket?”

There was nothing I could do about my head until I got home. Mr. Bible delivered me to the driveway, I ran into the house and first thing looked in the mirror. Kids used to come up behind me and smear my hair around just like that and ask, “What’s worse than a hairicane?” I will not repeat the second part of the question. Anyone that was a kid back then will know.

Well, Nixon had given me a hairicane. My Dad asked “How was the President?” I was standing my hair back up with the horsetail brush and said, “He messed up my hair.” Dad said, “Well, did you talk to him?”

“Yeah, he just wanted to know if I was a Pennsylvania Massey. I told him I was from Tennessee.”

From then on, I wanted to be a politician. I told my Dad “When I’m old enough to run for office I’m going to,” and I kept that promise. I was elected to the Greene County Commission and according to Betty Carter Justice am the youngest person to ever be elected to public office in Greene County. If Betty says it, I believe it. The next-youngest person on the commission was 22 years older than me.

I lost my appetite for politics, but I sure seem to get elected to offices in organizations. Years passed, and I got into genealogy and of course the organizations. I was in Valley Forge for my first Encampment (annual reunion) when one of the guests, Winchell Carrol, the state president of the Pennsylvania SAR, asked if I was related to the Masseys at the 1696 Thomas Massey House in Broomal, Pennsylvania. I told him no, my Masseys came out of North Carolina. He asked if I had visited the 1696 Massey house and I told him I had not but would like to some time.

Several years later when genealogy DNA testing first came out, I was one of the first to try it out. Lo and behold if I did not descend from Thomas Massey of the 1696 house. On my next trip to Pennsylvania I took my DNA and genealogy and visited the 1696 Thomas Massey House. I had a nice visit with Rich Paul, the director, and had all my information spread out on a table. I will never forget Mr. Paul looking up at me and asking, “You do know you are related to Richard Nixon?” I said, “What?” He said, “Yes, Nixon was proud of his descent from Thomas Massey, he visited the house several times.”

Suddenly, over 30 years later, I knew why Nixon asked if I was related to the Pennsylvania Masseys. Richard Nixon and I are cousins so many times removed. Too bad I didn’t know that when I was 12.

When I stop at Gettysburg, I usually go to the grave of Nixon’s grandfather, George Nixon. I had found Nixon’s grave before I knew we were related. He was a private in Company B, 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 2, 1863), he was wounded in the right hip and side during skirmishing with the Confederates and lay in the no-man’s land between the Union position on Cemetery Hill and the Confederate lines. At night the cries of pain were such that it inspired Private Richard Enderlin to crawl out during the constant firing between the two forces and retrieve wounded men. One was Nixon, who he dragged back most of the way, then stood up with the wounded man and dashed the final distance to safety. This act won Enderlin an instant promotion to Sergeant, and a Medal of Honor later. Despite his rescue, Nixon’s wounds proved to be mortal, and he died in the XI Corps Hospital seven days later.

I often say, we never know how what we do today will affect us tomorrow, or when we will meet people again in the future. This is a story about a kid helping his father, mostly to get out of farm work, then getting to meet the president, who turned out to be his cousin.

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Greene County historian Tim Massey is an award-winning writer for Civil War News with more than 40 photos featured on various magazine covers. He has served on various boards and held positions in several historic organizations. He can be reached at horses319@comcast.net.

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