When Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945, The New York Times wrote, “Men will thank God 100 years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House.”
It will not take 100 years to thank God for Ronald Reagan. But why? Why was he so admired? Why was he so beloved?
He was beloved, first, because of what he was. Politics can be cruel, uncivil. Our friend was strong and gentle.
Once he called America hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair. That was America and, yes, our friend.
And next, Ronald Reagan was beloved because of what he believed. He believed in America so he made it his shining city on a hill. He believed in freedom so he acted on behalf of its values and ideals. He believed in tomorrow so The Great Communicator became The Great Liberator.
He talked of winning one for the Gipper and as president, through his relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, with us today, the Gipper and, yes, Mikhail Gorbachev won one for peace around the world.
If Ronald Reagan created a better world for many millions it was because of the world someone else created for him.
Nancy was there for him always. Her love for him provided much of his strength, and their love together transformed all of us as we’ve seen - renewed seeing again here in the last few days.
And one of the many memories we all have of both of them is the comfort they provided during our national tragedies.
Whether it was the families of the crew of the Challenger shuttle or the USS Stark or the Marines killed in Beirut, we will never forget those images of the president and first lady embracing them and embracing us during times of sorrow.
So, Nancy, I want to say this to you: Today, America embraces you. We open up our arms. We seek to comfort you, to tell you of our admiration for your courage and your selfless caring.
And to the Reagan kids - it’s OK for me to say that at 80 - Michael, Ron, Patti, today all of our sympathy, all of our condolences to you all, and remember, too, your sister Maureen home safe now with her father.
As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did.
Who can forget the horrible day in March 1981, he looked at the doctors in the emergency room and said, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”
And then I learned decency; the whole world did. Days after being shot, weak from wounds, he spilled water from a sink, and entering the hospital room aides saw him on his hands and knees wiping water from the floor. He worried that his nurse would get in trouble.
The Good Book says humility goes before honor, and our friend had both, and who could not cherish such a man?
And perhaps as important as anything, I learned a lot about humor, a lot about laughter. And, oh, how President Reagan loved a good story.
When asked, “How did your visit go with Bishop Tutu?” he replied, “So-so.”
It was typical. It was wonderful.
And in leaving the White House, the very last day, he left in the yard outside the Oval Office door a little sign for the squirrels. He loved to feed those squirrels. And he left this sign that said, “Beware of the dog,” and to no avail, because our dog Millie came in and beat the heck out of the squirrels.
But anyway, he also left me a note, at the top of which said, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.”
Well, he certainly never let them get him down. And he fought hard for his beliefs. But he led from conviction, but never made an adversary into an enemy. He was never mean-spirited.
Reverend Billy Graham, who I refer to as the nation’s pastor, is now hospitalized and regrets that he can’t be here today. And I asked him for a Bible passage that might be appropriate. And he suggested this from Psalm 37: “The Lord delights in the way of the man whose steps he has made firm. Though he stumble, he will not fall for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”
And then this, too, from 37: “There is a future for the man of peace.”
God bless you, Ronald Wilson Reagan and the nation you loved and led so well.