WITH SQUARE-JAWED INTENSITY AND unquestioning loyalty, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman worked hard to protect Richard Nixon from political enemies. His no-nonsense Marine-style buzz cut was a fixture in the Oval Office as he brokered access to his boss from 1969 to 1973. But the man who proudly described himself as “the President’s son of a bitch” while serving as White House chief of staff was far less successful at controlling Nixon’s capacity for self-destruction. When, at 67, he died Nov. 12 of abdominal cancer in Santa Barbara, Haldeman was remembered as the man who fell on his sword in a vain effort to save a scandal-plagued President.
Alter Watergate broke in June 1972, Nixon and Haldeman discussed a plan to suppress an FBI investigation of the break-in at Democratic party headquarters. But the cover-up was exposed when the Supreme Court forced the Administration to release secret tapes of Nixon’s Oval Office machinations, in April 1973, Haldeman and another top aide, John Ehrlichman, were forced to resign. Haldeman was convicted of conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice and served 18 months in a federal minimum-security prison.
Born in Los Angeles to Harry Francis Haldeman, a wealthy businessman, and his wife, Katherine, young Harry attended private schools and became an Eagle Scout. After graduating from UCLA in 1948, he joined the J. Waiter Thompson advertising agency and later worked as a chief advance man for Vice President Nixon when he ran unsuccessfully against John F. Kennedy for the Presidency in 1960.
Eight years later, Haldeman led a team of media-savvy advisers who softened Nixon’s dour image enough to win the White House by a whisker.
In recent years, Haldeman built a fortune as a real estate developer and lived in a secluded Santa Barbara home with Joanne, his wife of 44 years. (They had two daughters and two sons.) Embittered by his prison term, he described Nixon as having a “dirty, mean and base side” in his 1978 memoir, yet eventually made peace with his former mentor and attended Pat Nixon’s funeral last summer. Still, Haldeman was sadly aware that he would be remembered for his inglorious role in Watergate. “Few men in all of history have had the privilege of being raised as high as I was,” he once reflected, “and few have had the tragedy of being brought as low.”