January 24, 2005
Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon's loyal secretary who took initial responsibility for erasing part of a key White House audiotape during the Watergate investigation, died on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2005, in a nursing home in Alliance, Ohio. She was 87. Woods worked for Nixon for nearly 25 years, joining his staff after the young Republican was elected to the Senate from California in 1950. She was with him in 1968 when he took the presidency. She is best known, however, for the infamous "18-1/2 minute gap." The tape was from a June 20, 1972, conversation between Nixon and H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, that occurred just three days after burglars entered the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex. Because of the timing of the conversation, investigators both on Capitol Hill and in the special prosecutor's office believed it could have answered the question, made famous during congressional hearings, about what Nixon knew about the break-in and when he knew it. A photo of Woods showing the "Rose Mary Stretch," or how the erasure could have occurred stretching backward to answer the phone with her left hand while inadvertently hitting the "record" button and keeping her right foot on the tape recorder's pedal became a searing image of the scandal.