Of all the presidents I’ve studied, I’ve never encountered as many truly remarkable stories and anecdotes as I have about Ronald Reagan. His connection to the common man really was extraordinary. I’m often asked for a favorite anecdote illustrating the point. That’s a challenge, but there’s one I can’t forget.
I was at the Reagan Library, reading through the thousands of personal letters that Reagan paused to write to everyday Americans throughout his presidency. I was especially touched by an exchange he had with Ruth Smith of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Ruth’s letter arrived on Reagan’s desk at a providential time. The “pragmatists” and “moderates” had been imploring him to not talk about abortion. It would divide America. It would alienate the female vote. It was unsophisticated.
But Reagan proceeded anyway, always speaking truth to power and to evil, whether the scourge of atheistic Communism or the abortion industry. Still, encouragement was always welcome. Ruth Smith delivered it via her February 1987 letter.
“I just wanted to thank you,” Smith began, “for the stand you have been taking on abortion.” She spoke from the heart, recalling how in 1963, as a college student, she became pregnant out of wedlock. With abortion then illegal — ten years before Roe v. Wade — she had no choice but to marry and have the child.
“Today,” Smith reported to the president, “my daughter that I didn’t abort, but would have if I’d have had an alternative, is beautiful.”
Ruth listed all of her daughter’s accomplishments, plus those of the many beautiful children that followed in that blessed marriage of nearly 25 years.
In fact, that daughter was now married and had a husband of her own, and had relocated to Washington, D.C. — and was considering returning to college. Since Reagan lived “in the area,” Smith innocently asked the president, “Do you have any recommendations?”
In the middle of Iran-Contra, negotiations with the Soviets, and every unimaginable issue on his desk, Reagan proceeded to jot down a bunch of college recommendations. “As you can see,” the president concluded, “Washington, D.C. is a great college town and [your daughter] should have no trouble completing her degree.”
It was classic Reagan. This was a man who cared about human life — that first and most fundamental of all freedoms. Ronald Reagan considered every life, every person, worth his time.
— Paul Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, God and Ronald Reagan, and the newly released Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.