Ronald Wilson Reagan was the second son of devoted parents Jack and Nelle Reagan, and he was reared in the small town of Dixon, Illinois. His father nicknamed him "Dutch" for his "Dutchboy" haircut, a nickname that followed him his entire life.
Reagan's first real job was as a lifeguard on the Rock River in Lowell Park, where he is credited with 77 rescues. Throughout his career, he never strayed far from the central task of that work.
He studied economics and sociology at Eureka College, but his mastery of America's First Principles was self-taught. After graduation, he became a radio sports announcer. In 1937, while touring with the Chicago Cubs, a screen test rewarded the handsome young Reagan with a seven-year Warner Brothers studios contract.
In addition to acting, he enlisted as a private in the Army Reserve in 1937, but his service was limited due to poor eyesight. He found his stride when called to active duty and assigned to the AAF Public Relations office in 1943. He was honorably discharged at the rank of captain at the end of WWII and returned to Hollywood, where he would eventually make his mark as president of the Screen Actors Guild (union) from 1947 to 1952 and again in 1959.
He married Jane Wyman in 1940, and they had three children: Maureen, Christine and their adopted son Michael. Wyman filed for divorce in 1948 after Reagan took over the Actor's Guild, citing irreconcilable differences over his changing political views.
Reagan met actress Nancy Davis in 1949 and married her in 1952. They had two children, Patti and Ron. The Reagans truly adored each other, and she remained devoted to "Ronnie" throughout his years in politics, his years suffering with Alzheimer's disease, to his death in 2004, and to this day.
Though Reagan identified himself as an FDR Democrat when he was a young man, he endorsed the presidential candidacies of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, and by 1960 his commitment to our Founding Principles was cemented. Of the once-noble Democratic Party Reagan noted, "I did not leave the Democrat Party. The Democrat Party left me." (Years later as president, Reagan references his former role as a Democrat.)
Prophetically, in 1961, Reagan created a warning about socialized medicine for the American Medical Association, asserting that if government regulates the provision of medical services, "we will awake to find that we have socialism ... and spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."
In 1964, Reagan backed the presidential bid of conservative protagonist Barry Goldwater, and he delivered "A Time For Choosing," which defined his political philosophy and challenged the American people to restore Essential Liberty.
In 1966, Reagan defeated two-term California governor Pat Brown (the father of that state's current governor), and would win re-election in 1970. After an unsuccessful challenge to President Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican primary, and four years of Jimmy Carter's dysfunctional administration, Reagan won the Republican nomination in 1980, and soundly defeated Carter in the general election while carrying 44 states.
In his first term, he restored the nation's confidence, corrected the economy's course by implementing supply-side principles, survived an assassination attempt, restored funding to increase our military capability and stood tall against the "Evil Empire" of the Soviet Union. He also reinvigorated the debate about the constitutional role of government, taxes and government spending.
In 1984, Reagan was re-elected in a historic landslide, winning 49 of 50 states. He lost only Minnesota (by a mere 3,800 votes), the home state of his opponent, Walter Mondale, Carter's former vice president. Oh, and he lost the District of Columbia.
His second term also accomplished much domestically, but suffered the overblown political football called Iran-Contra, an operation run from the basement of the White House by a Marine officer, my colleague Oliver North. But that even was eclipsed by the a crowning achievement that changed the course of world history.
President Ronald Reagan engineered the collapse of Communism. He won the Cold War without firing a single shot. The Berlin Wall would be dismantled in 1989, and the once-mighty Soviet Union would cease to exist just two years later. Because of President Reagan's vision and steadfast leadership, hundreds of millions of people are this day free from the yoke of Communist tyranny.
President Reagan left office in 1989, much as he had entered it, with the respect and admiration of most Americans he served.
In August 1994, at the age of 83, Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He died at his California home on June 5, 2004.
Visit The Patriot's comprehensive site devoted to Ronald Reagan.
Alexander essays about President Reagan: