A small personal descant in the chorus of hosannas re the Great Ronnie.
In April 1986, I was privileged to accompany Vladimir Horowitz to Moscow on the occasion of his one and only return to his Russian homeland, for concerts in Moscow and Leningrad. We arrived from Paris to discover that Reagan had just bombed Libya; two weeks later, while we were still in the country, Chernobyl blew up. Fun for the whole family.
But that’s not my Reagan story. A few months later, I got an invitation to the White House and was present in the East Room as the president welcomed Horowitz and his wife, Wanda, who sat next to Nancy on the small stage. I was flattered that some of the president’s info had come directly from my Time Magazine cover story but was alarmed at the way Toscanini’s daughter kept scooching the chairs sideways, forcing the First Lady to move, ever more perilously, closer to the edge. To make matters worse, there was an impassive Marine guard standing behind the potted plants — but he wasn’t noticing the impending disaster.
(You can see a picture of the scene, in happier times, here.)
Well, it happened. Nancy shifted her chair once too often and over the side she went. A real trouper, she recovered nicely and bounced right back up with the assistance of the poor Marine. Reagan flashed that famous grin and quipped: “Honey, I told you only to do that if my speech didn’t go well.”
Afterward, at the reception, I saw the president standing alone for a moment, and said to my wife, “Hey, let’s go say hi.” We walked over, I introduced myself and Kate, we shook hands and made some small talk. Affable, intelligent, with that Irish twinkle in his eye — exactly as advertised, and never to be forgotten.
A couple of weeks later, a package arrived from the White House. It was a photograph, taken at the moment Ronald Reagan and I shook hands, inscribed, “To Kathleen and Michael Walsh, with best wishes, Ronald Reagan.”