A Leader to Believe In
June 7, 2004
On Jan. 20, 1981, I stood on the Capitol’s west lawn with my hus band, George. It was an overcast day. But then, suddenly, the rain ceased; the clouds broke, and the sun came out to shine brightly on Ronald Reagan as he took the oath of office. It was a glorious ceremony, an inspiring speech, a happy day for us Reaganauts - and a turning point for the world.
I first met Reagan in 1974. I was a young staff member at the first Conservative Political Action Conference. He was the keynote speaker and honored guest.
He was already a beacon for many conservatives. He communicated our ideas with clarity, conviction and good humor. His affection and respect for Vietnam veterans and POWs - in an era when other leaders were disparaging them - also helped him stand out.
This was a leader to believe in. I worked on his 1976 presidential campaign - and again in 1980.
When he won, he brought his ideas - and his idealists - to Washington with him. I had the privilege of joining the White House staff, eventually as director of the Cabinet Office, a post that gave me a seat in the corner of the Cabinet Room.
There, I was able to observe President Reagan in action, exploring policy options with his Cabinet and agency heads.
One of his endearing and inspiring traits was to make eye contact with “supporting cast” staffers at Cabinet meetings, giving them a wink or a nod while issues of great significance were being decided. It was the president’s way of letting them know they were full members of his team.
Being responsible for preparing the president’s Cabinet briefing books, I often formed my own views of an issue before the formal discussion began. Sometimes I’d find my head nodding in agreement with a speaker or shaking “discreetly” from side to side when not.
The president would often give me a knowing look and wink as though to say: I get your message.
In these tiny, affirming, human ways, President Reagan inspired countless individuals whose paths crossed his. Yet he also moved and motivated countless others - from the four corners of the world - who never met the man at all.
Over the years, scores of leaders and intellectuals from around the world - Poland, Ghana, Spain, Italy, Japan and more - have told me how President Reagan and his message of hope, economic growth and liberty inspired them to bring change to their own countries. His global legacy, in other words, isn’t “just” winning the Cold War.
Ronald Reagan’s principled vision to advance liberty for all, to end the march of Communism, to free America’s economy to produce wealth and jobs for all - and his unwavering faith in God and the innate decency and judgment of the American people - truly changed the nation and the world for the better.
When he came face to face with his Creator, I have no doubt the words he heard were, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
We’ll miss you, President Reagan.
Becky Norton Dunlop is now vice president of external relations for The Heritage Foundation.