Jeb Stuart Magruder, an aide to President Richard Nixon who went to prison for his role in covering up the 1972 Watergate break-in and later served as a pastor in Lexington, died in Danbury, Conn., on Sunday due to complications from a stroke. He was 79.
Magruder was senior minister of Lexington's First Presbyterian Church at 171 Market Street from November 1990 to May 1998.
The church decided to hire Magruder despite the national notoriety surrounding his participation in the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington that came to be known as Watergate.
"I never regretted that decision," said Lexington lawyer Cecil F. Dunn, who chaired the church's nominating committee that selected Magruder.
"We had 228 applications for the job, and his was the last to come in," Dunn said Thursday in an interview.
Dunn said that when he passed out copies of the applications to the committee members, some did not recognize Magruder.
"His was an extremely good application. He knew how to write. He kept reaching out to us, and he made the final three. We were extremely impressed with him and his faith and gave him the job. It turned out to be good for him and for the church."
Dunn said he considered Magruder "a friend. He was a soft-spoken man who was very good in expressing himself. I read every sermon he wrote, and I'm very sorry to hear of his passing."
Under Magruder's tenure, church attendance increased from 200 to 350, annual giving rose 150 percent and $3 million worth of improvements were made to the building.
Magruder and his wife, Patti, left Lexington to move to Dallas, where he worked as a consultant for Resource Services Inc., a financial consulting company for churches.
A native of Staten Island, N.Y., Magruder had been an aide to Nixon, then moved on to serve as deputy director of the Committee for the Re-election of the President.
He spent seven months in federal prison for his part in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary.
After his release from prison in 1975, Magruder worked for Young Life, a ministry to high school students. He entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1978 and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1984.
Magruder said in 2003 for the first time that he remembered listening in on the phone as Nixon gave the go-ahead for the plan to bug the Democratic headquarters at Washington's Watergate complex.
In July 2007, Magruder suffered a stroke while driving in Columbus, Ohio. He had been in bad health since then.
Magruder, who served two years in the Army in Korea, wrote two books: An American Life, One Man's Road to Watergate (1974) and From Power to Peace (1978).
He is survived by four children and their spouses and nine grandchildren.
Hull Funeral Service in Danbury, Conn., is handling arrangements. Burial after cremation will take place at Arlington National Cemetery, and a private family service will be held at that time.
Because of his work for Habitat for Humanity in Lexington, donations in his memory can be sent to that organization at https://www.habitat.org/cd/giving/one/donate.aspx.