To me, the review of the life and service of our 40th president brought history into perspective. Many were asked, “How would you rate Ronald Reagan as a president?” Without fail, most of those asked responded with accolades that enumerated his greatness.
From humble roots he rose to be president. Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in the small town of Tampico, Illinois on February 6, 1911. He had an older brother, Neil. His parents were Jack and Nelle Reagan. His father was a shoe salesman who moved around to small towns in Illinois to keep a job. Jack Reagan had a major problem with alcoholism. When Ronald was a boy of eleven, he came home and found his father on the porch of the Reagan home. He thought his father had passed out from over-imbibing, as indeed he had, but Jack Reagan was dead. The lad managed to move his father’s body inside the house and awaited his mother’s return from work. His mother was a seamstress and a Christian from whom Ronald learned hard work, the Bible and a desire to do something worthwhile with his life. He was able to get a scholarship to Eureka College in Illinois where he graduated in 1932.
His career prior to entering politics included radio announcer from 1932-1937 and Hollywood film actor from 1937-1954. Perhaps his most notable role was that of George Gipp, star half-back in the film about Notre Dame’s great football coach, “Knute Rockne, All-American” in 1940. This role gave him the nickname, “The Gipper.” He starred in some 50 films and served as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild where his love of persuasion and politics were nourished.
He was host and acted in the General Electric Theater, a TV production, from 1954-1962. He was married from 1940 through 1949 to Jane Wyman, actress. Children from that marriage were Maureen (died of cancer, 2001), Michael and Christine (born prematurely and lived one day, 1947).
On March 4, 1952, he married actress Nancy Davis. Their children were Patti (b. 1952) and Ronald (b. 1958). It was Nancy who was to become the beloved first lady of California and the first lady of America, standing by her beloved “Ronnie” through years of public service and his last decade as he was afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
In November, 1980, he was elected president of the United States over incumbent Jimmy Carter, receiving 51.5% of the popular vote. At his first inauguration January 20, 1981, the Iranian hostages were released. In his first term, he was shot in an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981. On July 7, 1981, he appointed Sandra Day O’Connor of Arizona to be the first female justice in the US Supreme Court. She participated in his funeral, by his prearranged request, reading a portion of a sermon by Colonial preacher John Winthrop from which came Reagan’s term for America, “a shining city upon a hill.”
During his first term, the infamous strike by over 11,000 air traffic controllers ended with them being fired by the president Terrorism was evident in the October 23, 1983 suicide truck-bombing in Lebanon when 241 U. S. Marines lost their lives. Two days later, U. S. troops were sent to the island of Grenada to tackle a leftist coup there.
He was reelected on November 6, 1983 to his second term, winning over former Vice President Walter Mondale with almost 60% of the popular vote.
Using hard-nosed tactics in dealings with Russia, he called it “an evil empire.” His Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was often termed “Star Wars,” but led to the eventual demise of the Russian Communist Regime and the end of the Cold War. His dealings in summit conferences with Russian leader Gorbachev led to the arms agreement, the breakup of the USSR, and later the removal of the Berlin Wall. He stood boldly near the end of his presidency at the Brandenburg Gate and said: “Come here to this gate, Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Two years later, the wall came down. A portion of that wall is now at the Reagan Memorial Library in Simi Valley, California.
Blights on his second term were the Iran-Contra deal in which Oliver North was dismissed and arms went to the Nicaraguan rebels in exchange for hostages held by Iran. Reagan later apologized, stating the action was a “grave mistake.” Sweeping tax cuts initiated by President Reagan were popular with citizens but led eventually to the largest budget deficit in the history of the nation when he stepped down at the end of his second term.
Seeking to summarize the worth of Ronald Wilson Reagan as a president, many have seen him as a leader of integrity, honesty and faith and one who restored America’s belief in itself. “Morning in America” was one of his famous mottoes. He saw the nation as “a shining city on a hill.” Dinesh D’Souza became senior domestic policy analyst on President Reagan’s staff. His book about the president has sold over 200,000 copies. In it he praises Reagan for giving the American people the opportunity to live their lives. D’Souza states: “I think all of us can learn from Reagan’s confident leadership. His unshakeable faith in closely held principles, his vision of a better tomorrow, and his belief in the worth of every human being should inspire us all.”
I watched the proceedings of the state funeral with interest and respect. Since the funeral, I have accessed various websites with Reagan eulogies and tributes. At the website http://rememberedbyus.com/Ronald Reagan, I found that those who wish to send a personal message about our 40th president can do so, and light a candle in his memory. This is what I wrote:
“For the period when President Ronald Reagan served our country, we did not always realize the magnitude of his zeal, his spirit and his service. Now, in retrospect, we see that he was a great president and one who restored faith in America and in freedom. May we hold to his ideals and persist in making America that ‘shining city on a hill.’ God bless his family and may his legacy be remembered with respect and deep appreciation.”On December 1, 1988, President Reagan wrote this farewell message:
“When I saddle up and ride into the sunset, it will be with the knowledge that we’ve done great things. We kept faith as old as this land we love and as big as the sky: A brilliant vision of America as a shining city on a hill. Thanks to all of you, and with God’s help, America’s greatest chapter is still to be written, for the best is yet to come.”
c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 17, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.