He was at the side of the American president on one of the most important diplomatic trips in history, enjoying sumptuous banquets as a guest of Chinese dictator Mao Zedong.
Three and a half years later he was in prison after becoming first person to go on trial in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, despite protesting his innocence.
But half a century on, Dwight Chapin is not bitter and does not blame Richard Nixon for his fall from grace. On the contrary, he believes that the jowly-faced 37th president – who resigned in shame in 1974 – was a brilliant man and is still misunderstood.
“Richard Nixon was not a crook,” says Chapin via Zoom from his home in Riverside, Connecticut. “Sometimes the term ‘evil’ is used: that’s not what the man was about. In his heart, he was not only a patriot but an incredible public servant. He was in the arena serving the public for half a century.”
Challenging baked-in perceptions of Nixon was the main motivation for Chapin, now 81, to write a memoir, The President’s Man, which delves into the thousands of hours they spent together, from small hotels in New Hampshire to the Forbidden City in Beijing.
They first met in 1962 when Chapin was a 21-year-old student and Nixon – narrowly defeated for the presidency by John F Kennedy two years earlier – was running for governor of California.
Chapin recalls: “Mr Nixon had been a congressman, a senator, vice-president for eight years and then had all that notoriety running against Kennedy, so he was a commanding figure. When he was in a room, you knew it. His presence was very strong.”
He worked as a field organiser on the 1962 campaign then as Nixon’s personal aide during his successful run for president in 1968. At the White House he was appointments secretary, with a door that opened into the Oval Office, and deputy assistant to the president, responsible for the planning and logistics of his public appearances.