Obituary: Ziegler, ex-ad man, Nixon secretary, dies

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Ronald L. Ziegler, 63, died last week of a heart attack. The ex-ad executive is remembered for one of 20th century's most historic sound bites when, as President Richard M. Nixon's press secretary, he dismissed the Watergate break-in as "a third-rate burglary."

Mr. Ziegler, a graduate of the University of Southern California, worked in Mr. Nixon's 1962 unsuccessful campaign for governor and that year joined J. Walter Thompson Co. in Los Angeles, initially serving first as administrative assistant to H.R. Haldeman, who headed that office.

A year later he was promoted to account representative and began working on accounts ranging from SeaWorld to 7-Up, Portland Cement, Alberto Culver and Walt Disney Productions, according to an agency biography at the time.

At the agency, Mr. Ziegler came into contact with a cadre of Republicans who would eventually join the Nixon administration. In 1968, Mr. Ziegler left JWT to join the Nixon White House and in 1969, at age 29, he became the youngest press secretary in presidential history.

He was familiar as spokesman for Mr. Nixon during a period that included the end of the Vietnam War and the normalization of relations with China. But what turned Mr. Ziegler into an icon was his increasingly combative defense of the administration as news story after news story chronicled the Watergate scandal.

`third-rate burglary'

Not only did he tell reporters the break-in was "a third-rate burglary," but as leaks started to reveal information that earlier statements were wrong, he said his earlier statements were no longer "operative."

The leaks became a torrent, and stories by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein became the fodder for the downfall of the administration and, for their paper, a Pulitzer Prize. Mr. Ziegler remained close to Mr. Nixon, joining the first couple on the lonely trip to San Clemente, Calif., on Aug. 9, 1974. He remained with them a year after Mr. Nixon's resignation from the presidency.

He subsequently worked with an engineering firm, became president of the National Association of Truck Stop Operators for five years and then for 11 years, was president-CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

Craig Fuller, the ex-Philip Morris Cos. executive who is now president-CEO of the drugstore association, said Mr. Ziegler "contributed his experience and wisdom" to the organization. "His contributions will always be valued and remembered."

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