The Corner

The Oak-Walled Cathedral

When I interviewed Judge William P. Clark [as I was working on my book, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, from which this passage is drawn], I found myself wanting to ask not about Reagan’s policies but about his interior life. What had Clark, the man who was probably closer to the President than anyone outside the Reagan family, seen in the chief executive that would have been hidden from an ordinary member of the staff such as a speechwriter like me? The private, inner Reagan—what had he been like?

“He was a man of prayer,” Clark said.

Reagan’s favorite setting for prayer? The outdoors. “He didn’t need a church to pray in,” Clark explained. “He referred to his ranch as an open cathedral with oak trees for walls.” On trail rides, Clark and Reagan would often recitethe famous praer of St. Francis of Assisi that opens, “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.” “Sometimes,” Clark said, “the President would look around and say, ‘What a wonderful place for prayer.’ And sometimes he’d just look up at the sky and say, ‘Glory to God.’”

Journal entry, May 2001:

Ever since my talk with Judge Clark, I’ve found, a picture keeps coming to mind. Ronald Reagan is on horseback, riding along the exposed ridge at the southwestern corner of his ranch. When he reaches the high point where the helicopter pad once stood, he reins in his mount. He gazes up at the enormous vault of the sky. He feels the rushing wind against his face. He looks east, following the shape of the land as it tumbles down and away, spreading to form the green bowl of the Santa Ynez Valley. Then he shifts in his saddle to look west, taking in the endless, dazzling ocean, the Channel Islands misty in the distance. And then he whispers, “Glory to God.”

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