AFTER EIGHT frustrating years of being blocked by an often hostile Congress, U.S. President Barack Obama finally got to see one of his goals accomplished last weekend: Marvin Nicholson got married.
Secretary of State John Kerry was the officiant. Obama was one of the groomsmen. There were no media at the black-tie wedding, but floating around Facebook was a photo of the president getting a hug from Nicholson’s mother, Liz Beatty, of North Saanich.
It was because of Beatty that Obama phoned me four days before being elected president in 2008. I was writing a piece on Nicholson, who submitted to an interview only because he knew it would make his mother happy. Obama, as a favour to Nicholson, called me after a campaign stop in Gary, Indiana.
When I asked if there would be a job for Nicholson in the White House, Obama replied that of course there would, but there was a more pressing priority: “I’m sure his mom, who is one of your readers, wants him to get married and give her some grandkids.” You could hear Nicholson squirming on the campaign bus.
So, while there’s no word on the second half of the equation, Obama can leave office with the satisfaction of seeing one more target at least partially reached.
Nicholson’s brother Walt, the best man, deftly sidestepped the political angle Monday, focusing instead on where the focus belonged. “Watching Marv get married was incredible,” he said from Florida. “We literally grew up together, and to be able to stand next to him as he and Helen exchanged vows was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I couldn’t be more proud of him for all he’s become, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for the two of them.”
Walt also lives in Washington these days. The brothers have two passports thanks to their mother’s U.S. birth, but both Nicholson boys grew up in Victoria after moving from Ontario in 1987.
St. Michaels University School grad Marv moved to Massachusetts in 1999, which is where he met Kerry, going to work in his congressional office and taking a role in his 2004 presidential campaign.
That’s where he was spotted by Obama’s people who, after learning that Kerry didn’t plan another presidential run, recruited Nicholson in 2007.
For whatever reason, the 6’8” Victorian and Obama clicked. “He and the president are extremely close,” Beatty said in 2012. “They’re the best of friends.”
Nicholson’s official title is White House trip director, but his unofficial job is to be the president’s safety valve, the friend he turns to when he wants to shed the weight of the Oval Office and just hang out or play golf. The two played cards while the president nervously awaited the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
In reporting on Saturday’s wedding, USA Today said Nicholson “has a unique role at the White House that puts him in almost constant contact with the president.”
The “secretary of swing” is how the New York Times described Nicholson in a 2014. “Every president needs a space where he can be quiet and let loose and feel normal,” Obama told the newspaper. “And when I’m with Marvin, we can talk the same way we would if we were just a couple of guys having a beer and whacking a ball around.”
The same year, the New Yorker magazine described the relationship thusly: “He and the president toss a football around, they shoot baskets, they shoot the shit…. Since taking the job with Obama, in 2009, Nicholson has played golf with the president well over a hundred times. The Speaker of the House has played with him once.”
In fact, by a CBS News staffer’s calculation, Obama has played 333 rounds since becoming president, and Nicholson has been in on 192 of them, making him Obama’s most frequent golfing partner.
Brother Walt has joined them on at least a dozen occasions, though he keeps mum about the experience.
It’s impossible to say how the friendship will shift as Obama and Nicholson leave the White House (Pajcic comes from that orbit, too; the Princeton University grad also worked for the administration, most recently on education policy).
They have been tight for a decade, though. It speaks volumes that in the last days of his presidency, Obama flew to Florida (without wife Michelle, but with several Secret Service agents dressed in tuxedos, according to the Washington Post) to be part of the Victorian’s wedding party. It was one of the president’s last flights in Air Force One.
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