Reagan Remembered As Infectious Optimist
By JEFF WILSON
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Ronald Reagan's friends and enemies agreed he changed the world. The popular, infectiously optimistic president reshaped the Republican Party in his conservative image and devoted most of his energy to the destruction of communism abroad.
Reagan, 93, died Saturday following a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Nancy Reagan and children Ron and Patti Davis were at the couple's Los Angeles home when Reagan died at 1 p.m. of pneumonia, as a complication of Alzheimer's, said Joanne Drake, who represents the family. Son Michael arrived a short time later, she said.
In a piece written for Time magazine before Reagan's death, Nancy Reagan said her husband felt his greatest accomplishment was finding a safe end to the Cold War.
"I think they broke the mold when they made Ronnie," she wrote. "He was a man of strong principles and integrity. He had absolutely no ego, and he was very comfortable in his own skin; therefore, he didn't feel he ever had to prove anything to anyone."
President Bush on Sunday paid tribute to Reagan during a D-Day commemoration at Colleville-sur-Mer, France, that drew leaders from more than a dozen countries.
"Twenty summers ago, another American president came here to Normandy to pay tribute to the men of D-Day. He was a courageous man, himself, and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom. And today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan," Bush said, prompting applause.
Reagan's body was expected to be taken to his presidential library and museum in Simi Valley and then flown to Washington to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. His funeral was expected to be at the National Cathedral. The body was to be returned to California for a sunset burial at his library.
Five years after leaving office, the nation's 40th president told the world in November 1994 that he had been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. He said he had begun "the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."
Although fiercely protective of Reagan's privacy, the former first lady let people know his mental condition had deteriorated terribly. Last month, she said: "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him."
He lived longer than any U.S. president, spending his last decade in the shrouded seclusion wrought by his disease, tended by his wife, Nancy, whom he called Mommy, and the few closest to him. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton are the surviving ex-presidents.
George H.W. Bush, Reagan's vice president, told NBC, "I was honored to be at President Reagan's side for those eight years. I learned so much from him."
Bush said Reagan will be remembered for "his principled stand against totalitarianism, against communism."
The U.S. flag over the White House was lowered to half-staff within an hour of Reagan's passing, and there were moments of silence at ballparks and at the Belmont Stakes.
Reagan began his life in a four-room apartment over the general store in Tampico, Ill. Before he was elected president, Reagan racked up an impressive resume working first as a radio sports announcer, then as an actor and a two-term governor of California.
At 69, Reagan was the oldest man ever elected president when he was chosen on Nov. 4, 1980, by an unexpectedly large margin over incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Near-tragedy struck on his 70th day as president. On March 30, 1981, Reagan was leaving a Washington hotel after addressing labor leaders when a young drifter, John Hinckley, fired six shots at him. A bullet lodged an inch from Reagan's heart, but he recovered.
Over two terms, from 1981 to 1989, Reagan retooled the Republican Party in his conservative image, fixed his eye on the demise of the Soviet Union and Eastern European communism and tripled the national debt to $3 trillion in his single-minded competition with the other superpower.
His famed "Star Wars" program drew the Soviets into a costly arms race it couldn't afford. His 1987 declaration to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the Berlin Wall - "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" - was the ultimate challenge of the Cold War.
Gorbachev on Sunday hailed Reagan as a great president and said he was distraught by news of his death, the Interfax news agency reported.
"Reagan was a statesman who, despite all disagreements that existed between our countries at the time, displayed foresight and determination to meet our proposals halfway and change our relations for the better, stop the nuclear race, start scrapping nuclear weapons, and arrange normal relations between our countries," Gorbachev said.
"I do not know how other statesmen would have acted at that moment, because the situation was too difficult. Reagan, whom many considered extremely rightist, dared to make these steps, and this is his most important deed," the former Soviet leader was quoted as saying.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said Reagan "had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the Cold War for liberty and he did it without a shot being fired."
In his second term, Reagan was dogged by revelations that he authorized secret arms sales to Iran while seeking Iranian aid to gain release of American hostages held in Lebanon. Some of the money was used to aid rebels fighting the leftist government of Nicaragua.
Despite the ensuing investigations, he left office in 1989 with the highest popularity rating of any retiring president in the history of modern-day public opinion polls. His populist brand of conservative politics still inspires the Republican Party.
He is survived by his wife, Nancy; three children, Michael, from his first marriage and Patti Davis and Ron from his second. His oldest daughter, Maureen, from his first marriage, died in August 2001 at age 60 from cancer.
United States Obituary Collection about Reagan Although
Name of Deceased: Reagan Although
Obituary Date: 7 Jun 2004
Newspaper Title: Indianapolis Star, The
Newspaper Location: Indianapolis, IN, Us
Locations Mentioned in Obituary: CA
Other Persons Mentioned in Obituary: Michael
George Bush H.W.
Bill Are Clinton
Source Citation: Newspaper: Indianapolis Star, The; Publication Date: 7 Jun 2004; Publication Place: Indianapolis , IN , Us..