Secretary who erased Nixon tape dies

Rosemary Woods, the ever-loyal secretary to President Richard Nixon, has died at a nursing home in Ohio

Rosemary Woods, the ever-loyal secretary to President Richard Nixon, has died at a nursing home in Ohio.

Woods will go down in history as the woman who was believed to be responsible for the erasure of 18 1/2 minutes of crucial evidence, before it could be turned over to Watergate investigators seeking to impeach Nixon.

The infamous gap in the tape might have proved Nixon's personal involvement in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. The conversation between the president and his chief of staff H.R. 'Bob' Haldeman was critical to the questions of what did Nixon know and when did he know it.

That question might have been answered clearly if the tape hadn't been erased, since it took place just three days after the break-in at the Democratic Party's national headquarters.

The erasure of the tape came amid a fight between the White House and Senate investigators. In a compromise move, the White House released written transcripts of the tapes, and it was Woods who did the transcriptions.

Woods claimed she never caused the 18 1/2 minute erasure. She said she made an error and erased maybe four or five minutes, but not the rest.

She posed for a photograph, in which she demonstrated how she managed to accidentally erase the tape by stretching one foot forward while reaching back to get the phone. It became one of the most famous images of the Watergate era.

Subsequent investigations backed up her story, although no one ever admitted or was charged with tampering with the tape.

Woods began work for Nixon while he was a freshman senator, in 1950. She would stay with him until his resignation in 1974. She was so close to Nixon and his wife Pat that the president one time said, "Rose ... is as close to us as family."

Woods, who was 87 when she died, remained loyal to Nixon until the end. "I'm proud of every minute I have been associated with President Nixon and I always will be and I think you will find that all of these people are too," she said in an interview in 1997.

"I think Mr. Nixon will go down in history as one of, if not the, greatest president we've ever had and I think a lot of people [agree.]"

Nixon's daughters Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Tricia Nixon Cox released a statement on Sunday.

"She was a cherished friend to us and to all who knew her. None of us will forget how she served her country with unswerving loyalty and dedication throughout her entire career," the statement said.

No cause of death has been released.