Ronald Wilson Reagan was the fortieth President of the United States of America.  He believed in his country and in its people, and inspired a nation with his vision of confidence and hope for the future.  His was an ideal of “peace through strength” during a turbulent time in world history, believing that “no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.”  He was born in 1911 in Tampico, Illinois and died in 2004, a victim of a 10-year struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.  He left behind his wife, Nancy, to whom he had been lovingly married for 52 years, and three children (one adopted during a previous marriage to actress Jane Wyman).  Throughout a lifetime of struggles against Communism, the Cold War, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, divorce, the death of two children, an assasin’s attempt on his life, and other tragedies, Ronald Reagan remained strong and kept a sense of humor that touched a hurting and confused nation at its deepest level.

Reagan attended high school in Dixon, Illinois, and went on to work his way through Eureka College, where he played football and acted in school plays in between his studies of sociology and economics.  After graduation, he worked as a radio sports announcer until 1937, when he won a contract as a film star in Hollywood, California (the same year he joined the Army Reserves).  Reagan went on to act in 53 films, and became president of the Screen Actors Guild.  While serving in this capacity, arguments over Communism caused Reagan to change his political position from liberal to conservative.  He soon became enthusiastically involved in his new party, working as a television host and a spokesman for conservatism.  He won the Governorship of California in 1966 by a margin of over a million votes, and his term was renewed in 1970.

In 1976 Reagan fought for the Republican Presidential nomination against Gerald Ford, but lost the bid by a narrow margin.  Ford went on to lose the election against Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan was the Republican Party’s nominee, and Reagan selected former Texas Congressman and U.N. Ambassador George H.W. Bush as his running mate.  He took the election and won a re-election in 1984; this time receiving all the electoral votes but those in Minnesota and Washington, D.C.  At almost 70 years of age, he was the oldest man yet to be elected President.

69 days into his first term, Reagan was shot by a crazed young man named John Hinckley Jr.  Reagan wrote later that, as he lay in the hospital and watched Jim Brady, one of the men who had been shot trying to protect him, being wheeled past his room in a coma, he said a prayer for him, but thought, “I didn’t feel I could ask God’s help to heal Jim, the others, and myself, and at the same time feel hatred for the man who had shot us, so I silently asked God to help him deal with whatever demons had led him to shoot us.”

Ronald Reagan believed in forgiveness, faith, strength and perserverance in pain.  He also lived these things.  He believed in “better tomorrows”.  He believed in “empathy”; in “developing a knack for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”.  He believed that “a people free to choose will always choose peace”, that “democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.”  Ronald Reagan trusted in the importance of small-town America and the traditional family, stating that “all great change in America begins at the dinner table”; and in the power of small businesses (“entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States”). That “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”  He wanted to be able to “…be sure that those who come after will say of us…that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.”  He kept to his famous philosophy of “peace through strength”, exhorting his countrymen to fight oppresors and tyrants (“when you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.”).  He fought drug addiction (“Let us not forget who we are. Drug abuse is a repudiation of everything America is.”).  He was adamantly opposed to racism and discrimination, saying, “The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past. For example, the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war, is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.”  He was also a strong, born-again Christian, believing that “without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure” and “within the covers of the Bible are all the answers for all the problems men face.”

His marriage to Nancy was one of the most important parts of his life.  He loved her with a deep and lasting love that a nation whose view of marriage had been rocked noticed.  And she was devoted to him, heart and soul.  He saw her as a gift from God, writing in his diary, “I pray I’ll never face a day when she isn’t there[,] of all the ways God had blessed me, giving her to me was the greatest – beyond anything I can ever hope to deserve.”  Later, he wrote, “…it is almost impossible for me to express fully how deeply I love Nancy and how much she has filled my life.  From the start, our marriage was like an adolescent’s dream of what a marriage should be. It was rich and full from the beginning, and it has gotten more so with each passing day. Nancy moved into my heart and replaced an emptiness that I’d been trying to ignore for a long time. Coming home to her is like coming out of the cold into a warm, firelit room. I miss her if she just steps out of the room.”

Ronald Reagan was a high successful President and, most importantly, a truly patriotic American citizen.  He loved his God, his family, his country, his brothers and sisters of America.  And up until the end of his life, these things were his driving passions.  In November of 1994, Ronald Reagan penned a hand-written letter to America, announcing his recent diagnosis.

“I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease… 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 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.”

On June 5, 2004, at the age of 93, Ronald Reagan passed away.  But the things he lived for will remain, and he will always be remembered as a truly great American.

Resources:

  1. “Ronald Wilson Reagan” http://www.ronaldreagan.com/
  2. “Assasination Attempt” http://www.ronaldreagan.com/march30.html
  3. “Ronald Reagan…In Hollywood” http://www.ronaldreagan.com/march30.html
  4. “Biography of President Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004” http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/rr40.html
  5. “Racism Quotes and Quotations” http://thinkexist.com/quotes/with/keyword/racism/
Advertisements