Ronald Reagan has been my hero, almost as long as I can remember. I loved him from the first time I learned about him — during a fourth grade social studies project on the 1976 presidential election.
Last weekend, as the televised tributes from the great, the good and the merely famous (or once famous) began to pour in for President Reagan, it seemed that I was the only person left who couldn’t claim some special relationship with this most special of presidents. I never met him, never spoke with him, and we never shared a personal moment, joke, story or laugh.
In fact, the only time I saw the President, it was from no closer than six feet away — at a political rally in 1986, during my first political campaign at age nineteen. Suddenly, he turned and twinkled in my general direction. And then, I couldn’t help it; with a dramatic lapse of professionalism, I actually threw him a kiss.
But even though I never “met” the President, like millions of other Americans, I felt that I did know Ronald Reagan. And through him, after the Bible and my parents, I learned some of the most important lessons of my life.
President Reagan demonstrated the power of faith. With his belief in God and in America, President Reagan was able to move mountains. He was never crippled by fear or doubt; long ago, his mother had taught him that all things work together for good. From this, he derived his unquenchable optimism, his love for freedom, and his confidence in the ultimate goodness of mankind.
President Reagan demonstrated the importance of convictions. His example reinforced the truth that certain political principles are non-negotiable — they give life meaning, and are worth defending at all costs. And he demonstrated the power of words to communicate these convictions and to inspire, move, and convince. Today, as we remember both his ideas and the way he conveyed them, all the insults and the slander too often directed at him lie, like communism, forgotten on history’s ash heap; this, too, reminds us that, in the end, truth and right will always outlive calumny and cowardice.
President Reagan demonstrated the value of humor. With a gentle joke — occasionally even at his opponents’ expense — he endeared himself and promoted his ideas. His humor was a product not only of his intelligence, but of his humility. Because he never took himself too seriously, he didn’t have to take life too seriously — at least not all the time. And so he was able to keep matters in perspective. He saw neither his life nor his presidency as being “all about him,” and so he never worried about “his” legacy. He knew history would treat him fairly, and it will.
President Reagan demonstrated the magnificence of patriotism. He loved America, and it has returned that love in full measure. His was the truest kind of love. He knew and cared for our country as it was, but at the same time, his vision transcended its flaws to see the true, radiant essence of America as God created it to be — a “shining City on a Hill.”
Once, Ronald Reagan called Lady Liberty “the other woman in [his] life” (along with Mrs. Reagan, who dedicated her life to her husband’s success, and in doing so has earned a place as one of history’s great, though unsung, heroes). In fanning the flames of Lady Liberty’s torch, President Reagan lit millions of small, humble but sturdy candles, all across America. I know, because I am one of them. And that, too, is his enduring legacy.
Ronald Reagan belongs to history now, and above all, he is with God. But he will live forever, enshrined in the hearts of the people all across the world who loved him and all that he stood for.
In his final Oval Office address on January 11, 1989, President Reagan told of a refugee who, glimpsing an American serviceman, called “Hello, freedom man.” It could just as well have been the cry of the 500 million behind the Iron Curtain, who were liberated through the clarity of Ronald Reagan’s vision, the steadfastness of his courage, and the force of his conviction.
And surely, last Saturday, all of Heaven rang with that greeting. Hello, freedom man.