Six years ago today, the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, died.
He was 93 years old.
The days following his death would be remarkable in that the outpouring of love, affection and admiration for him was far beyond anything even I would have expected.
Just five days after his death, I wrote a short little tribute – a portion of which I was fortunate enough to have printed in the New York Post.
From January 10, 2004, here is the article I wrote in its entirety called It’s Love, Mr. Reagan:
Somewhere amongst my belongings, buried deep beneath a lifetime’s debris in some old box under the bed, is a post card I received in the spring of 1981. It was a “thank you” card from the White House in response to a letter I wrote to President Ronald Reagan following his assassination attempt in March of that year. Although it wasn’t a hand-written response, it was still incredibly impressive and meant a lot to me. I marveled at it for days after receiving it. I can still remember almost everything about it, including the image of the printed signature of “Ronald Reagan” on the front. My younger brother and I hung it on our wall, where it stayed for quite some time.
I was a rambunctious thirteen-year-old that spring, the year Mr. Reagan took the oath of office as the fortieth President of the United States. Eight years later, as he took his final bow from public service, I was a twenty-one year old know-it-all, with more chutzpah than know how. Now, fifteen years on from that, I am a thirty-six years old father of two, married to the love of my life for thirteen years, unwavering in my support of President Bush and our troops as the War on Terror continues. Yet, to this very day, through all that has come and gone during the formative years of my life, Mr. Reagan’s is the image I most associate with the office of President. Not unlike those of my grandparent’s generation who saw Franklin Roosevelt as everything quintessentially presidential, so did I when it came to Ronald Reagan.
As one who is wont to expressing his thoughts through prose, I was moved to write something about this extraordinary man, looking deep inside myself for the appropriate words, hoping to successfully tap into the wealth of emotions within. His passing has invoked such an outpouring of sentiment and affection that I felt compelled to pay tribute in my own way. For me, he embodied what I always characterized as the soul of America – the true spirit of this nation. Mr. Reagan exuded a magnificent confidence in the people of the United States without ever placating or patronizing them. Like he did many times as a young lifeguard all those years ago, he came to the rescue in the nick of time, resuscitating a nation’s faltering self-assurance from Jimmy Carter’s malaise. And while I never had the honor or pleasure of knowing him personally, his very words convinced me that he knew who I was; that I was part of the America he knew was still alive and itching to reemerge – the proud America he loved and believed in. His America was, indeed, my America. His vision and purpose for this country served to strengthen each and every one of us. He, indeed, made the world a far safer place. He defeated liberty’s enemy – the Evil Empire – and brought freedom to millions who could once only yearn for it. Tributes abound in Eastern Europe to their liberator, Ronald Reagan.
In the days since his passing, I have been warmly reminded of his infectious charisma and good cheer, his disarming smile, his renowned sense of humor. The power of his words and the steadfast conviction in the positive vision he had for America were glorious to revisit. Yet, during these days of sadness, reflection and celebration, I have been struck by something I hadn’t quite anticipated. It hit me as I was witnessing the colossal logjam of cars on the expressways of Southern California. It hit me even harder watching the tens of thousands of people from all walks of life standing on lines – sometimes as long as ten hours – for the chance to pay their respects and spend just a few seconds in the same room with late President.
In the truest sense, I have been witnessing the affirmation of a love affair of epic proportion. This inestimable outpouring of emotion for President Reagan has, without a doubt, been about unadulterated love … and I do not mean “love” as defined by the purveyors and disciples of pop culture. And I don’t even mean the kind of love that he and Nancy shared for more than half a century. I mean love in the purest, most genuine sense of the word – the variety that moves people to want to see others strive to be the best they can be; the kind that moves people to believe that success by any measure is derived from the individual through a higher power; the kind of love that moves and induces us to be better people for having had the privilege of feeling it and knowing it.
This was Ronald Wilson Reagan.
His love for this country and the people in her was as much a weapon as it was a God given blessing. With his hopefulness, strength and confidence, he crushed the confusion, malaise and disappointment that gripped us in the 1970s. He shattered the cynicism and negativity that permeated the American landscape. He helped us to feel good about this nation again. Thanks to him, it was okay to love America again. This was the gift of Ronald Reagan’s love – a gift that has once more brought America together, to mourn, to pray, to reminisce, to take inventory of ourselves, and understand and believe in the goodness of our people and the greatness of our nation. We pay our respects and remind ourselves how fortunate we were to have him, and that our best days are, in fact, ahead of us.
This entire week has been about love.
Indeed, America loves Ronald Reagan.
It is a love affair for the ages.
Thank you, Mr. Reagan.