Reagan Tribute Exclusive:Hodel: A Gracious President

From Don Hodel:

President Reagan was truly a gracious man. He was as kind and gentle to his Cabinet as he appeared to be in public. At one of the early cabinet meetings I attended, while serving as Under Secretary of the Interior, I was surprised to hear him interrupt the presenter and say, “Wait a minute, you’re talking politics. I want to know what you think is right.”

What a refreshing point of view to have in Washington, DC! It was a terrific object lesson to me during the rest of my time in Washington, and since.

Many people have asked me about his religious convictions. I do not recall how widespread was the practice by a President of closing all of his formal public speeches to the nation (State of the Union and others) with “God bless you,” or “God bless America.” My impression is that he so popularized it that to this day all do it.

There were two incidents I experienced which may give some information on the subject of his spiritual commitment.

I had received a letter from a woman who asked that I deliver it to the President. With her permission I read it and found that it contained some strongly spiritual statements and references to the supernatural powers of God. I was, frankly, uncomfortable about passing on such a letter because I had never had discussions about such matters with him.

Finally, I transmitted the letter to the Cabinet Secretary with a short note indicating that I had been asked to pass it on to him. I assumed that would be the last I heard of it. I was wrong. A few weeks later I received a copy of an extraordinary letter to the woman signed by the President. Without the Cabinet Secretary’s assurance that it was all right for me to speak of the letter, I would not do so. It read in its entirety as follows:


Dear __________,

Secretary Don Hodel has kindly passed along your message. It was good to hear from you and to receive your words of friendship and support. I am grateful, too, for your prayers and those of your husband and the members of your church. I believe in intercessory prayer and feel strengthened by the knowledge that others are asking God’s help in my behalf. I pray for that help myself, and also to thank Him for giving me this opportunity to serve Him.

President Lincoln said, “I couldn’t for one day face the problems of this office unless I could turn for help to one who is stronger and wiser than all others.”

Again, my thanks to you.

Ronald Reagan

Now, before the skeptic has a chance to scoff, let me add that I know how big organizations handle the mass of mail which comes in for the leader. He cannot possibly read and answer all his mail. However, I also know that nothing as personal and revealing as these comments would be sent without his personal approval. Therefore, I am satisfied that this letter represented a genuine expression of his views.

There was one other revealing comment by the President on the subject of prayer. A suggestion was made at a Cabinet meeting by one of the Cabinet officers that Cabinet meetings begin with a prayer. The President simply said, “I already do,” and laid the matter to rest. No formal prayer was instituted, but the President’s position on the propriety of prayer in such circumstances was certainly clear.

–Mr. Hodel, former Republican
state chairman of Oregon, was
secretary of energy and then secretary
of the interior under President Reagan.