Writing for President Reagan for eight years was the formative experience of my time in Washington. It began in my 20s and ended shortly after I’d aged just enough to be eligible for the office of the man I’d served. But Ronald Reagan never let my “youth and inexperience” interfere with the incredible opportunity I had been given by Anne Higgins, Reagan’s correspondence director, to craft first drafts of letters, proclamations, occasional articles, and videos for him.
That is only to say something I think we all felt in the East Room in January 1989 when the Reagans hosted the staff for a farewell party. There was a short speech by the president about all that had been accomplished over eight years, not neglecting the bumps and hurdles along the way. I’ve never liked Shakespeare’s phrase that “parting is such sweet sorrow” because some partings just plain hurt, but as this unceremonious ceremony ended and a White House staff of mixed vocal skills spontaneously launched into “Auld Lang Syne,” a dry eye was impossible. We knew we were finishing the jobs of a lifetime. And that was sweet.
The lens of memory casts a warmer glow over every good happenstance. And Ronald Reagan’s life, begun a century ago, seems uncommonly blessed — but that is only because, as he might say, the human spirit is designed by God to outlast, outlive, and even out-pray the roughest spots. Still, one is struck by the narrative completeness of our 40th president’s life, the arc it followed, and the truths — small-town, truly “home” truths — it affirmed. “Work, family, neighborhood, peace, and freedom,” as his 1980 campaign theme summed them up.
Ronald Reagan exemplified what he believed, the simple stuff in all its complexity — like a great oak with roots underground and all that beauty and significance above. It was only fitting that, after hostage crisis and liberation, assassination attempt and recovery, stagflation and economic recovery, anti-nuke demonstrators and the staggering Russian bear — it was only fitting that President Reagan would welcome the national-champion Notre Dame football team during his last week in office.
So many storylines converging: Reagan the Midwestern college kid, football player, and portrayer of George Gipp; the celebration of such American values as honesty and fair play; and, as always, a gentle touch of faith.
My aging parents were along in the Rose Garden that day. So was my sister, a writer for then–Vice President Bush and, like me, a Notre Dame grad. Mom and Dad had dreamed we could go to such a school. Now we had, and now, in this land of freedom where dreams and hard work can still take a person anywhere, we were able to commemorate all that in one place, at one time.
No honor can surpass serving a man whose life truly was, and forever will be, all-American.
— Chuck Donovan is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.