To the world, Barry Goldwater was a five-term Arizona Senator, the architect of the modern conservative movement and the 1964 Republican presidential candidate defeated in a landslide by Lyndon Johnson.
To Peggy Goldwater, he was just dad. And from a young girl’s perspective, his distinguishing characteristics were always keeping busy around the house and being good with his hands. Goldwater built about 300 model airplanes, she said, and wired the family’s La Jolla summer home for sound. He even made his own motorcycle and TV.
“He could do everything,” said Peggy, now a Palm Desert resident who describes herself as “a youthful 75.”
“He always had projects. He didn’t like to sit still. He was very active. And he was a funny guy. He loved a good joke.”
Born in Arizona in 1909, a few years before it achieved statehood, Barry Goldwater was part of the Jewish family that founded the Goldwater’s department-store chain. (He was raised Episcopalian, though, like his mother.) Before entering politics, he ran the family business after his father died.
When Barry got elected to the Senate in 1953, the family lived in Phoenix when it was in session, and Peggy would see her dad for about a week out of every month. But they summered on Mt. Soledad — in a house designed for the Goldwaters in 1940 by architect Harold Newton Abrams — where Barry was all Peggy’s.
“It was a lot of fun growing up there,” Peggy said. “La Jolla was always time for my dad to relax because the Senate was out.”
Peggy — who was called either “Peggy Jr.” or “Little Peggy” because she shared a name with her mom — was the youngest of four siblings. (Joanne, Barry and Michael are all still living in the Phoenix area.) Every summer, the Goldwater kids couldn’t wait to hit the sand in front of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, where their dad was one of its most popular members.
“I would run around the sand, take tennis lessons and get into trouble with Melinda (Merryweather),” Peggy said. (The duo — who remain friends today — met when they were 4 years old, in Arizona, because their fathers were close. Melinda’s dad was Arizona State Senator Hubert Merryweather, and Melinda always called Goldwater “Uncle Barry.”)
“Melinda and I giggled all the time,” Peggy said. “We were way above our years when we were younger.”
Back at the house, there was always an interesting dinner guest for Peggy to stay up late and hear her father converse with. One of her fondest memories is of Hoagy Carmichael playing and singing “Ole Buttermilk Sky” on the piano in their living room, which jutted out into a semi-circle of floor-to-ceiling windows toward the Pacific.
“And my birthday is in July, so I always had a wonderful birthday there,” she said.
By her teen years, Peggy became a good swimmer and used to visit Windansea Beach to hang out with Merryweather and the surf crowd.
“I did all the races at the Beach & Tennis Club and the Rough Water Swims,” she said. “And I remember the lifeguards. When you’re 16 and they’re running around with those muscles!”
But the Goldwaters sold their La Jolla house in 1960, when they decided to summer in Newport Beach instead.
“Mom and dad left because they were a younger couple and they wanted to go someplace younger,” said Peggy, who spent the next 45 years in Newport Beach, before relocating to the desert three years ago with her second husband.
When her father lost the presidential election, Peggy recalled, everyone in the family was sad.
“I’m sure he would probably have loved to have been President and seen some of his platforms to fruition,” she said. “But then the realization that we would now be able to lead a private life slowly set in, and we realized it would be pretty nice not to have Secret Service and others not leaving us alone.”
Peggy still bristles at what she felt was the unfair treatment given her father by the Johnson campaign. One famous TV ad juxtaposed a little girl counting daisy petals with a countdown to a nuclear blast. (On March 1, CNN revisited the 1964 election in its original documentary series, “Race For the White House.”)
“People remember that LBJ commercial,” Peggy said. “Those were very hurtful. It’s gotten worse as time has gone on.”
Goldwater retired from the Senate in 1987, and died of complications from a stroke in 1998. Peggy said many people harbor conceptions of her dad — that he was tough as nails, outspoken and fiercely opposed to liberal causes — that contradict her memories of him.
“Dad became more moderate as he got older,” Peggy said. “He was a very understanding person and he was a non-judgmental person. When Clinton had just gotten into office, someone criticized him in front of dad and he said, ‘Give the boy a chance. We don’t know that much about him yet.’
“And that’s the kind of man my dad was.”