David Nixon: 'willing to roll up his sleeves'
MANCHESTER -- A friend and colleague calls David Nixon "a guy who really appreciates people and tries very hard to help them."
Attorney Jack Middleton was referring to Nixon’s work as a lawyer. But the assessment applies to other fields in which Nixon, 82, has toiled through the years.
Be it in politics (former state Senate president, gubernatorial candidate) or sports (a sponsor of youth high school football scholarship programs and charity golf tournaments) or the law, Nixon has done much for New Hampshire.
It is why he is being recognized this year as a Granite State Legacy Award honoree.
The awards, which recognize accomplishments in business, civics and volunteerism, are presented by the New Hampshire Union Leader and sponsored by Centrix Bank.
Nixon is a civil trial lawyer who takes cases on behalf of plaintiffs, often the little guy who’s going up against big organizations or insurance companies. He has sued hospitals for malpractice, Dartmouth College when it fired a football coach and the court system when it booted stenographers out the door. He also represented then-Chief Justice David Brock of the state Supreme Court.
When politicians get in trouble - such as former state Sen. Junie Blaisdell and former Banking Commissioner Peter Hildreth - they turn to Nixon. Nixon has even sued the New Hampshire Sunday News.
"He's an excellent lawyer - bright, humble," said longtime friend Middleton of the McLane law firm.
Raised in the Leominster, Mass., area, Nixon moved to New Hampshire in the late 1950s to work at the McLane firm. He followed some early advice and stayed focused on the law for 10 years - even when his former law partner, John W. King, was governor.He ran for the New Hampshire House in 1968 and served a two-year term in the House, then went to the state Senate. After two years, he was elected Senate president.In 1974, Nixon challenged a sitting governor, Meldrim Thomson, in the Republican primary. Throughout the campaign, Nixon said, he had to explain he was not related to Richard Nixon, who had resigned the presidency that year over Watergate.
He lost, and it would take him almost 30 years before he would run again, this time for a seat in the New Hampshire House, which he held for another single term in 2009-10.
"Should I have run again (after 1974)? I really had no motivation to spend my life in politics," Nixon said. "You'd have to have more money and more desire to attend events and make speeches than I did."
Nixon spoke via telephone recently from a rehab center. He was there for stress and shortness of breath, but expected to be released by this Memorial Day weekend. He said he has cancer.
In the late 1970s, he changed parties to Democrat, and he went underground in the political sense. He raised money and support for mostly Democratic candidates. But he remained close to moderate Republicans such as Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and recently deceased Executive Councilor Ray Burton.
He won two $1 million jury verdicts, one a malpractice case, the other stemming from an automobile accident, said his daughter, Leslie Nixon.
In politics, Nixon has been the kind of guy that any New Hampshire governor will take a call from, Middleton said. In law, he's the kind of lawyer that commanded respect from judges, Middleton said.
"He knows his way around the state. He's well-respected."
Nixon is also happy to roll up his sleeves and help community causes. In the 2000s, he spearheaded efforts to raise $500,000 so the city could build the William B. Cashin Senior Center. A golf tournament for the center continues to draw his attention.
Nixon said he called then-Mayor Bob Baines and suggested a volunteer committee to raise money for the senior center.
"The next thing I know, I read in the paper I'm chairman," Nixon said.He was one of the founders of the Joe Yukica-New Hampshire chapter of the National Football Foundation, which promotes amateur football through recognition ceremonies and scholarship. Nixon is secretary on the board of the nonprofit.But he is always willing to make a call, make a donation, or write a letter on behalf of the group, said George Larkin, who is also on the board.
"He's willing to roll up his sleeves - a well-known, bright attorney - and help," Larkin said. "He'll say, 'I'll get it done for you, I know somebody,' and bang, he'll make a phone call."