What I loved and miss most about my friend Ronald Reagan

When I watched President Biden repeatedly tear into and vomit vitriol against former President Trump in his Jan. 6 speech from the U.S. Capitol, I asked my wife, Gena, “When will this country ever return to decency in its treatment of fellow Americans?” It needs to start at the top.

It didn’t always used to be this way.

I remember when Ronald Reagan was running for the presidency in 1980. He was not a typical politician. That is why the Democratic Party was going to do everything possible to keep him from getting to the White House. However, the people of America, including me, felt Reagan would be a great president. We all saw him as an impressive person, a man of honor and integrity, and a man who cared for all the people.

Shortly after Reagan became the 40th president of our great country, I had the pleasure of meeting him and the first lady.

One day, Nancy Reagan’s assistant called my office. My assistant answered and said I wasn’t there. Then Mrs. Reagan’s assistant explained that the first lady was having a tennis celebrity event at the White House, and she wanted to invite me. My assistant said she would call me and then let her know soon if I would be able to make it to the event.

When my assistant called me and explained Mrs. Reagan’s personal invitation, I replied that I definitely wanted to go. But then when I hung up the phone, I realized I had never played tennis in my life! So, I obtained a tennis teacher to give me 10 days of intensive lessons before I had to fly to Washington, D.C.

It was a lot of fun playing in the White House tennis event. I had a great time. I didn’t play so great, but I also didn’t embarrass myself!

After the event, those participating were all invited to a special evening at the White House, during which we would have the opportunity of meeting President Reagan. When I met him in person, I immediately knew that he was not only a fine man but also a great leader for our country.

I remember when Reagan ran for his second term in 1984. The Democratic Party leaders again were trying their best to beat him with their presidential candidate, Walter Mondale of Minnesota. But Reagan had done an incredible job in his first four years, so people from all political persuasions – Republicans, Independents and even Democrats – reelected him. And as history recorded, he went on to be an even greater second term president, accomplishing things like bringing down the Berlin Wall and dismantling the Soviet Union.

In Reagan’s second term, I was again invited to an event at the White House. I again had the pleasure and honor to talk with the president and first lady. They were two of the most polite and respectful leaders I had ever met. I will never forget their friendship. I will always be grateful for how they influenced me to be a better person and leader.

Jan. 11 this week marks the anniversary date, in 1989, when Reagan gave his farewell address after eight years as the president.

History.com explained: “In his speech, Reagan declared that America ‘rediscovered’ its commitment to world freedom in the 1980s. The United States was ‘respected again in the world and looked to for leadership.’ The key, according to the president, was a return to ‘common sense’ that ‘told us that to preserve the peace, we’d have to become strong again after years of weakness.’

“Reagan proudly enumerated the successes of his vigorous foreign policy: achieving peace in the Persian Gulf, forcing the Soviets to begin departing from Afghanistan, and negotiating for the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia and Cuban forces from Angola. These efforts were all waged against communism, the ideology that Reagan believed was the main threat to freedom. ‘Nothing,’ he stated, ‘is less free than pure communism.'”

Most moving to me was Reagan’s dignity in his retirement and his twilight years, especially as he fought his last and greatest battle, against Alzheimer’s.

On Nov. 5, 1994, five years after leaving the presidency, Reagan wrote a letter to his fellow citizens from his home near Santa Barbara. In it he acknowledged that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The former president was honest and vulnerable. In his weakness, he reached out to even help others. He wrote these touching words:

My Fellow Americans,

I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease. Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we should make this news known in a public way.

In the past Nancy suffered from breast cancer, and I had my cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing. They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal, healthy lives.

So now, we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

At the moment I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life’s journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

In closing let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.

Sincerely, Ronald Reagan

What screams from that letter is the one characteristic I love and miss most about Ronald Reagan: his humility. He was vulnerable to a fault. He was truly transparent and respectful. He was always thinking and caring for others, even when he was down. He didn’t dip to dredge another man’s character through the mud. He knew when he pointed a finger out, he had three pointing back.

Reagan worked with those across the aisle, those with whom he even vehemently disagreed, like Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O Neil. He didn’t disrespect and demonize his opponents. Sure, he had a lot of fun sparring and poking verbal jabs with them, but he never forgot they were just as much American as him. I sure wish that characteristic of respect and humility would return to the U.S. presidency.

We are better than belittling and bullying, America. I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton in the 1990s, but I respected those who did. Then Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich didn’t agree with Clinton either, but they all fought to better our country. They agreed to disagree agreeably and worked together because those are the foundations of our Republic.

Though I’ve been a Republican for most of my adult life, I have many Democratic friends. I respect them and everyone’s right to free speech and vote according to their convictions. I think we need to return to a more civil America that can agree to disagree agreeably as well, especially on the tough issues. I think we need to protect rather than belittle others’ freedom of speech and opinions, maybe even especially when they differ with ours.

In the March 2020 edition of Whistleblower, Lee Edwards, the author or editor of 25 books and the Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation’s B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies, wrote about the divisiveness in our country: “We shall come through this crisis as we have other challenges in our 241-year history, following the example of leaders such as Reagan, who reminded us in his first inaugural address just what kind of people we are. The crisis we face, Reagan said, requires our willingness to believe in ourselves, ‘to believe that together, with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us. And after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans.'”

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