Son of Watergate

Can Tom Liddy use his father's notoriety to break into Congress?

But life wasn't easy. Frances taught school. Her salary was hardly enough to feed six mouths, and luxuries like Christmas were out of the question.

"My dad went all out. He always put the radishes and the carrots and the cookies and milk out, and there'd be footprints on the rug where Santa's feet would be covered with ashes.

". . . What I remember about my dad being in prison wasn't what I didn't get. What I remember is my mom crying. My oldest sister would have to stay up and wrap the presents, because she couldn't do it alone, and we didn't have any money, and one year my mom sat down and explained to us -- she put five kids on the couch -- and explained to us that Christmas is really about Jesus Christ.

All in the family: G. Gordon, Tom and Frances at the senior Liddys' Scottsdale home.
All in the family: G. Gordon, Tom and Frances at the senior Liddys' Scottsdale home.

"It's about God loving us (Tom starts sobbing), and it's about how we have to love each other and treat each other well. It wasn't about toys. She told us we weren't going to have a Christmas. And that was tough. As a parent, it's tough to think of your mom doing that. We were okay. We were like, 'Mom, don't be ridiculous. We don't care about presents.' We gave her a hug."

Christmas trees cost a dollar a foot, so the kids chopped a tree down in the woods near their home and got caught by the cops.

Some cousins helped out with money that Christmas, and the neighborhood Air Force families cared for the Liddys -- called them "prisoners of Watergate" -- but Tom says calls from White House associates were rare. A bag of groceries might have been viewed as an obstruction of justice.

And what about Richard Nixon?

"President Nixon was very busy running the country," Tom says. ". . . Believe me, I had my spaghetti and my hot dogs. I would rather my commander in chief be dealing with the Russians and the Chinese and the economy."

He adds, "My dad did hear from President Nixon when all was said and done, at an appropriate time, many years later, something my dad and my whole family are very, very grateful for."

Early on, Tom Liddy fought his playground detractors with his fists, but soon got interested in politics.

"In 1972 I probably pulled a McGovern bumper sticker off a VW wagon once or twice. I'm not sure that that counts as working for the Committee to Re-Elect the President," he laughs, figuring his first real effort was handing out Ford/Dole leaflets in 1976.

In 1977, days before his dad's release, Tom Liddy told a Washington Post reporter that he intended to study law and get into politics. He did both. He continued volunteering on campaigns -- he worked the signature machine for Ronald Reagan in 1980 -- and, after a stint in the Marines and a year teaching seventh-grade English, got a law degree from his dad's alma mater, Fordham. With a few years' experience and his high school sweetheart-cum-wife, Stacy, in tow, Liddy moved to Arizona. He says he was just following his family (G. Gordon and Frances have lived in the Valley part-time since 1984), but it's obvious that Tom Liddy is here for the politics.

But why? Why would a child of Watergate want to run for public office?

Tom says he wants to improve life for people who are suffering financially, the way he and his family suffered while his dad was in prison. And he wants to beef up the military and improve public education.

Public service has always been a part of life in the Liddy family, says Sandy Liddy Bourne, Tom's eldest sister. She was almost elected to the Virginia legislature in 1995 and says she plans to run for office again. She now works on environmental issues for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington, D.C.-based association of conservative state legislators.

Liddy Bourne recalls that her maternal grandmother rolled a ball for women's rights through New York City; her mother used to draw political cartoons for the local paper. Her paternal grandfather -- "a perfect gentleman" -- brought Volvo to the United States.

"Public service is something we were raised to do," she says.

Watergate had a lot to do with that.

"One of the things people don't understand is that we as children saw the negative side of political life. And with the strength and family values given to us by both of our parents, but most importantly our mother, we really can see and help a lot of others through a great deal of difficulty," Bourne says.

Don't forget Frances' influence, Liddy Bourne cautions.

"Tom is not an identical person to my father," she says. "Tom and I and all of us are a wonderful blend of the best of both of our parents."

Liddy Bourne tells a story about her brother.

"There was a time when Tom was in elementary school -- he was probably acting up or something, I don't know -- but a teacher said to him, 'If you don't behave, you're going to go to jail like your father did.'

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