Politics & Policy

Life Letters

Ruth Smith knew Ronald Reagan's dedication to human life.

With tributes to Ronald Reagan now off the front pages, the Left is trying to reshape the man in its own image. Surely, liberals inform us, Reagan would have supported the use of human embryos for scientific research.

I would strongly advise against placing Reagan anywhere but staunchly in favor of the sanctity of human life–at any stage of development. Reagan was an uncompromising champion of life.

To that end, I’d like to make public an example of the behind-the-scenes Reagan none of us saw–none of us except for a family in a tiny town in Idaho.

One July day, at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, I was thumbing through the voluminous collection of letters Reagan wrote as president. These thousands of letters are packed into dozens of boxes–and most were not penned to heads of state or famous people.

In one, Reagan responded to Ruth Smith of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was deeply moved by what she had written to him. “I just wanted to thank you,” Smith had begun, “for the stand you have been taking on abortion.” Smith then relayed her own experiences: In 1963, she was a college student, engaged and living in Los Angeles, when she became pregnant. She asked her doctor if she had any alternatives. It was pre-Roe v. Wade; abortion was illegal. With that option closed, Smith dropped out of college, married, and had her child.

Now, it was February 1987. “Today,” Smith told the president, “my daughter that I didn’t abort, but would have if I’d have had an alternative, is beautiful.” She boasted that her daughter, now a college student herself, raised money for Ethiopian children through World Vision. “She is a Christian and has the gift of Evangelism and she has shared the gospel of Christ with many, many people.” The previous summer she had married, and her husband was accepted to Bethesda Medical School to be a surgeon. “[S]o,” Smith innocently asked Reagan, “she will be looking for a college in your area to finish her last year of college. Do you have any recommendations?”

Actually, he did. Reagan handwrote a letter to Smith. “Since [Smith’s son-in-law] will be studying at Bethesda,” wrote the president, “I tried to see if there is a college close to that area. There are three easily reachable by bus and subway close to downtown D.C.: Georgetown University, Catholic University, and George Washington University. Depending on where [they] settle, they can also consider American University, George Mason University in Virginia, the University of Maryland, and numerous others. As you can see, Washington, D.C. is a great college town and [your daughter] should have no trouble completing her degree.”

Smith’s letter didn’t end with her daughter. She also spoke of a situation in 1978 when she was expecting again. She was having problems carrying the baby. Her doctor suggested she have an abortion. Smith refused. “I knew it wouldn’t be right,” she told Reagan, “so today we have an eight year old son who is healthy and so much fun. Enclosed are pictures. So hang in there and we are praying for you.”

Smith included a picture of her son in his Boy Scout uniform and a wedding photo of her daughter. Reagan thanked her for her prayers.

Why would the president of the United States, embroiled in the Cold War and the Iran-Contra scandal, and overwhelmed with nonstop briefings and much more, devote precious time to this Idaho woman? The answer is not merely that Ronald Reagan cared about people, but that he especially appreciated Smith’s choice of life.

I thought of Ruth Smith after Reagan’s death. I tracked her down. It turns out that she still lives at that same address on her 1987 letter.

Her husband Randy answered the phone. As Randy and I spoke, Ruth entered the front door, returning from a dentist appointment.

The Smiths told me they had watched the Reagan memorial services from start to finish. I asked about that daughter that Ruth didn’t abort in 1963. She is now 40. Said Ruth: “She has just been a blessing–an appreciative, wonderful daughter; never a problem. She’s a musician now. Has a grand piano.” Her husband is a respected surgeon, oncologist, and urologist. He does medical missions to countries like Mongolia. They’ve adopted two children. They’re doing their part to protect life.

Did the Smiths’ daughter ever finish that college degree? Yes, she took Reagan’s advice: She finished up at the University of Maryland.

The Smiths gave the gift of life to seven children, all of whom graduated from college: two from Princeton, two from the University of Southern California, one from the Air Force Academy, one from the University of Wisconsin, and one from the University of Maryland. All along, Ruth never worked outside the home and outside her volunteering for the school board and at church. How did she and her husband afford to send seven kids to college? “They all got good grades and financial aid,” explained Ruth. “Randy and I are just now getting around to fixing the house, after living here for 30 years.”

One of those children now serves his country in Iraq, where he flies a C-130. A daughter who majored in European history at Princeton did mission work in Russia, a nation that banned missionaries when Reagan was president (a situation Reagan resolved to change).

And what about that eight-year-old boy that Ruth’s doctor recommended she abort? The 26-year-old works for a senator in Washington. And he is a big fan of Ronald Reagan.

I asked Ruth if I could use her name for this article. “I don’t mind,” she said. “It helps the cause.” The cause of life, that is.

Ruth Smith of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, will not be tracked down by Dan Rather or Good Morning America or the New York Times. She’s a human-interest story they’re not interested in. They don’t care about her wonderful testimony to choice–the choice of life. But someone in the Oval Office did care. And during a hectic time in early 1987, Ronald Reagan considered Ruth Smith–and her love of life–worth his time.

–Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan. He is also a professor of political science at Grove City College and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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