President George W. Bush
Mrs. Reagan, Patti, Michael and Ron, members of the Reagan family, distinguished guests, including our presidents and first ladies, Reverend Danforth, fellow citizens: We lost Ronald Reagan only days ago but we have missed him for a long time. We have missed his kindly presence, that reassuring voice and the happy ending we had wished for him. It has been 10 years since he said his own farewell, yet it is still very sad and hard to let him go. Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to us.
In a life of good fortune, he valued above all the gracious gift of his wife, Nancy. During his career, Ronald Reagan passed through a thousand crowded places, but there was only one person, he said, who could make him lonely by just leaving the room. America honors you, Nancy, for the loyalty and love you gave this man on a wonderful journey and to that journey’s end. Today, our whole nation grieves with you and your family. When the sun sets tonight off the coast of California and we lay to rest our 40th president, a great American story will close.
The second son of Nell and Jack Reagan first knew the world as a place of open plains, quiet streets, gas-lit rooms and carriages drawn by horse. If you could go back to the Dixon, Illinois, of 1922, you’d find a boy of 11 reading adventure stories at the public library or running with his brother Neil along Rock River, and coming home to a little house on Hennepin Avenue. That town was the kind of place he remembered where you prayed side by side with your neighbors. And if things were going wrong for them, you prayed for them and knew they’d pray for you if things went wrong for you.
The Reagan family would see its share of hardship, struggle and uncertainty. And out of that circumstance came a young man of steadiness, calm and a cheerful confidence that life would bring good things. The qualities all of us have seen in Ronald Reagan were first spotted 70 and 80 years ago. As the lifeguard in Lowell Park, he was the protector, keeping an eye out for trouble. As a sports announcer on the radio, he was the friendly voice that made you see the game as he did. As an actor he was the handsome, all-American good guy, which in his case required knowing his lines and being himself. Along the way certain convictions were formed and fixed in the man.
Ronald Reagan believed that everything happens for a reason and that we should strive to know and do the will of God. He believed that the gentleman always does the kindest thing. He believed that people were basically good and had the right to be free. He believed that bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of.
He believed in the golden rule and in the power of prayer. He believed that America was not just a place in the world, but the hope of the world. And he believed in taking a break now and then, because, as we said, there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.
Ronald Reagan spent decades in the film industry and in politics, fields known on occasion to change a man. But not this man. From Dixon to Des Moines to Hollywood to Sacramento to Washington, D.C., all who met him remembered the same sincere, honest, upright fellow. Ronald Reagan’s deepest beliefs never had much to do with fashion or convenience. His convictions were always politely stated, affably argued, and as firm and straight as the columns of this cathedral.
There came a point in Ronald Reagan’s film career when people started seeing a future beyond the movies. The actor Robert Cummings recalled one occasion: “I was sitting around the set with all these people and we were listening to Ronnie, quite absorbed. I said, ‘Ron, have you ever considered someday becoming president?’ He said, ‘President of what?’ ‘President of the United States,’ I said. And he said, ‘What’s the matter? Don’t you like my acting either?'”
The clarity and intensity of Ronald Reagan’s convictions led to speaking engagements around the country, and a new following he did not seek or expect.
He often began his speeches by saying, “I’m going to talk about controversial things.” And then he spoke of communist rulers as slave masters, of a government in Washington that had far overstepped its proper limits, of a time for choosing that was drawing near. In the space of a few years, he took ideas and principles that were mainly found in journals and books and turned them into a broad, hopeful movement ready to govern. As soon as Ronald Reagan became California’s governor, observers saw a star in the west, tanned, well-tailored, in command and on his way. In the 1960s his friend Bill Buckley wrote, “Reagan is indisputably a part of America and he may become a part of American history.”
Ronald Reagan’s moment arrived in 1980. He came out ahead of some very good men, including one from Plains and one from Houston. What followed was one of the decisive decades of the century as the convictions that shaped the president began to shape the times. He came to office with great hopes for America. And more than hopes. Like the president he had revered and once saw in person, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan matched an optimistic temperament with bold, persistent action.
President Reagan was optimistic about the great promise of economic reform, and he acted to restore the rewards and spirit of enterprise. He was optimistic that a strong America could advance the peace, and he acted to build the strength that mission required. He was optimistic that liberty would thrive wherever it was planted, and he acted to defend liberty wherever it was threatened. And Ronald Reagan believed in the power of truth in the conduct of world affairs. When he saw evil camped across the horizon he called that evil by its name.
There were no doubters in the prisons and gulags, where dissidents spread the news, tapping to each other in code what the American president had dared to say. There were no doubters in the shipyards and churches and secret labor meetings where brave men and women began to hear the creaking and rumbling of a collapsing empire. And there were no doubters among those who swung hammers at the hated wall that the first and hardest blow had been struck by President Ronald Reagan.
The ideology he opposed throughout his political life insisted that history was moved by impersonal tides and unalterable fates. Ronald Reagan believed instead in the courage and triumph of free men and we believe it all the more because we saw that courage in him. As he showed what a president should be, he also showed us what a man should be. Ronald Reagan carried himself, even in the most powerful office, with the decency and attention to small kindnesses that also define a good life. He was a courtly, gentle and considerate man, never known to slight or embarrass others.
Many people across the country cherish letters he wrote in his own hand to family members on important occasions, to old friends dealing with sickness and loss, to strangers with questions about his days in Hollywood. A boy once wrote to him requesting federal assistance to help clean up his bedroom. The president replied that, unfortunately, funds are dangerously low. He continued: “I’m sure your mother was fully justified in proclaiming your room a disaster … therefore you are in an excellent position to launch another volunteer program in our nation. Congratulations.”
See, our 40th president wore his title lightly, and it fit like a white Stetson. In the end, through his belief in our country and his love for our country, he became an enduring symbol of our country. We think of the steady stride, that tilt of the head and snap of the salute, the big-screen smile, and the glint in his Irish eyes when a story came to mind.
We think of a man advancing in years with the sweetness and sincerity of a scout saying the pledge. We think of that grave expression that sometimes came over his face, the seriousness of a man angered by injustice and frightened by nothing.
We know, as he always said, that America’s best days are ahead of us. But with Ronald Reagan’s passing, some very fine days are behind us. And that is worth our tears. Americans saw death approach Ronald Reagan twice, in a moment of violence and then in the years of departing light. He met both with courage and grace. In these trials, he showed how a man so enchanted by life can be at peace with life’s end. And where does that strength come from? Where is that courage learned?
It is the faith of a boy who read the Bible with his mom. It is the faith of a man lying in an operating room who prayed for the one who shot him before he prayed for himself. It is the faith of a man with a fearful illness who waited on the Lord to call him home. Now death has done all that death can do, and as Ronald Wilson Reagan goes his way, we are left with the joyful hope he shared. In his last years he saw through a glass darkly. Now he sees his savior face to face.
And we look for that fine day when we will see him again, all weariness gone, clear of mind, strong and sure and smiling again, and the sorrow of this parting gone forever.
May God bless Ronald Reagan and the country he loved.
Lady Margaret Thatcher
We have lost a great president, a great American, and a great man. And I have lost a dear friend. In his lifetime Ronald Reagan was such a cheerful and invigorating presence that it was easy to forget what daunting historic tasks he set himself. He sought to mend America’s wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to free the slaves of communism. These were causes hard to accomplish and heavy with risk. Yet they were pursued with almost a lightness of spirit. For Ronald Reagan also embodied another great cause – what Arnold Bennett once called ”the great cause of cheering us all up”.
His politics had a freshness and optimism that won converts from every class and every nation – and ultimately from the very heart of the evil empire. Yet his humour often had a purpose beyond humour. In the terrible hours after the attempt on his life, his easy jokes gave reassurance to an anxious world. They were evidence that in the aftermath of terror and in the midst of hysteria, one great heart at least remained sane and jocular. They were truly grace under pressure. And perhaps they signified grace of a deeper kind. Ronnie himself certainly believed that he had been given back his life for a purpose.
As he told a priest after his recovery ”Whatever time I’ve got left now belongs to the Big Fella Upstairs”. And surely it is hard to deny that Ronald Reagan’s life was providential, when we look at what he achieved in the eight years that followed. Others prophesied the decline of the West; he inspired America and its allies with renewed faith in their mission of freedom. Others saw only limits to growth; he transformed a stagnant economy into an engine of opportunity. Others hoped, at best, for an uneasy cohabitation with the Soviet Union; he won the Cold War – not only without firing a shot, but also by inviting enemies out of their fortress and turning them into friends.
I cannot imagine how any diplomat, or any dramatist, could improve on his words to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Geneva summit: ”Let me tell you why it is we distrust you.” Those words are candid and tough and they cannot have been easy to hear. But they are also a clear invitation to a new beginning and a new relationship that would be rooted in trust. We live today in the world that Ronald Reagan began to reshape with those words. It is a very different world with different challenges and new dangers. All in all, however, it is one of greater freedom and prosperity, one more hopeful than the world he inherited on becoming president.
As Prime Minister, I worked closely with Ronald Reagan for eight of the most important years of all our lives. We talked regularly both before and after his presidency. And I have had time and cause to reflect on what made him a great president. Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles – and, I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively. When the world threw problems at the White House, he was not baffled, or disorientated, or overwhelmed. He knew almost instinctively what to do. When his aides were preparing option papers for his decision, they were able to cut out entire rafts of proposals that they knew ‘the Old Man’ would never wear.
When his allies came under Soviet or domestic pressure, they could look confidently to Washington for firm leadership. And when his enemies tested American resolve, they soon discovered that his resolve was firm and unyielding. Yet his ideas, though clear, were never simplistic. He saw the many sides of truth. Yes, he warned that the Soviet Union had an insatiable drive for military power and territorial expansion; but he also sensed it was being eaten away by systemic failures impossible to reform. Yes, he did not shrink from denouncing Moscow’s ‘evil empire’. But he realised that a man of goodwill might nonetheless emerge from within its dark corridors.
So the President resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of these pressures and its own failures. And when a man of goodwill did emerge from the ruins, President Reagan stepped forward to shake his hand and to offer sincere cooperation. Nothing was more typical of Ronald Reagan than that large-hearted magnanimity – and nothing was more American. Therein lies perhaps the final explanation of his achievements. Ronald Reagan carried the American people with him in his great endeavours because there was perfect sympathy between them.
He and they loved America and what it stands for – freedom and opportunity for ordinary people. As an actor in Hollywood’s golden age, he helped to make the American dream live for millions all over the globe. His own life was a fulfilment of that dream. He never succumbed to the embarrassment some people feel about an honest expression of love of country. He was able to say ”God Bless America” with equal fervour in public and in private. And so he was able to call confidently upon his fellow-countrymen to make sacrifices for America – and to make sacrifices for those who looked to America for hope and rescue. With the lever of American patriotism, he lifted up the world.
And so today the world – in Prague, in Budapest, in Warsaw, in Sofia, in Bucharest, in Kiev and in Moscow itself – the world mourns the passing of the Great Liberator and echoes his prayer ”God Bless America”. Ronald Reagan’s life was rich not only in public achievement, but also in private happiness. Indeed, his public achievements were rooted in his private happiness. The great turning point of his life was his meeting and marriage with Nancy. On that we have the plain testimony of a loving and grateful husband: ”Nancy came along and saved my soul”. We share her grief today. But we also share her pride – and the grief and pride of Ronnie’s children. For the final years of his life, Ronnie’s mind was clouded by illness.
That cloud has now lifted. He is himself again – more himself than at any time on this earth. For we may be sure that the Big Fella Upstairs never forgets those who remember Him. And as the last journey of this faithful pilgrim took him beyond the sunset, and as heaven’s morning broke, I like to think – in the words of Bunyan – that ”all the trumpets sounded on the other side”. We here still move in twilight. But we have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had. We have his example. Let us give thanks today for a life that achieved so much for all of God’s children.
Former President George H. W. Bush
When Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945, the New York Times wrote, “Men will thank God 100 years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House.” It will not take 100 years to thank God for Ronald Reagan. But why? Why was he so admired? Why was he so beloved? He was beloved, first, because of what he was. Politics can be cruel, uncivil. Our friend was strong and gentle.
Once he called America hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair. That was America and, yes, our friend. And next, Ronald Reagan was beloved because of what he believed. He believed in America so he made it his shining city on a hill. He believed in freedom so he acted on behalf of its values and ideals. He believed in tomorrow so The Great Communicator became The Great Liberator.
He talked of winning one for the Gipper and as president, through his relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, with us today, the Gipper and, yes, Mikhail Gorbachev won one for peace around the world. If Ronald Reagan created a better world for many millions it was because of the world someone else created for him.
Nancy was there for him always. Her love for him provided much of his strength, and their love together transformed all of us as we’ve seen – renewed seeing again here in the last few days. And one of the many memories we all have of both of them is the comfort they provided during our national tragedies.
Whether it was the families of the crew of the Challenger shuttle or the USS Stark or the Marines killed in Beirut, we will never forget those images of the president and first lady embracing them and embracing us during times of sorrow. So, Nancy, I want to say this to you: Today, America embraces you. We open up our arms. We seek to comfort you, to tell you of our admiration for your courage and your selfless caring.
And to the Reagan kids – it’s OK for me to say that at 80 – Michael, Ron, Patti, today all of our sympathy, all of our condolences to you all, and remember, too, your sister Maureen home safe now with her father. As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did.
Who can forget the horrible day in March 1981, he looked at the doctors in the emergency room and said, “I hope you’re all Republicans.” And then I learned decency; the whole world did. Days after being shot, weak from wounds, he spilled water from a sink, and entering the hospital room aides saw him on his hands and knees wiping water from the floor. He worried that his nurse would get in trouble.
The good book says humility goes before honor, and our friend had both, and who could not cherish such a man? And perhaps as important as anything, I learned a lot about humor, a lot about laughter. And, oh, how President Reagan loved a good story. When asked, “How did your visit go with Bishop Tutu?” he replied, “So-so.” It was typical. It was wonderful.
And in leaving the White House, the very last day, he left in the yard outside the Oval Office door a little sign for the squirrels. He loved to feed those squirrels. And he left this sign that said, “Beware of the dog,” and to no avail, because our dog Millie came in and beat the heck out of the squirrels.
But anyway, he also left me a note, at the top of which said, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” Well, he certainly never let them get him down. And he fought hard for his beliefs. But he led from conviction, but never made an adversary into an enemy. He was never mean-spirited.
Reverend Billy Graham, who I refer to as the nation’s pastor, is now hospitalized and regrets that he can’t be here today. And I asked him for a Bible passage that might be appropriate. And he suggested this from Psalm 37: “The Lord delights in the way of the man whose steps he has made firm. Though he stumble, he will not fall for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” And then this, too, from 37: “There is a future for the man of peace.”
God bless you, Ronald Wilson Reagan and the nation you loved and led so well.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney
In the spring of 1987 President Reagan and I were driven into a large hangar at the Ottawa Airport, to await the arrival of Mrs. Reagan and my wife, Mila, prior to departure ceremonies for their return to Washington. We were alone except for the security details.
President Reagan’s visit had been important, demanding and successful. Our discussions reflected the international agenda of the times: The nuclear threat posed by the Soviet Union and the missile deployment by NATO; pressures in the Warsaw pact, challenges resulting from the Berlin Wall and the ongoing separation of Germany; and bilateral and hemispheric free trade.
President Reagan had spoken to Parliament, handled complex files with skill and good humor – strongly impressing his Canadian hosts – and here we were, waiting for our wives.
When their car drove in a moment later, out stepped Nancy and Mila – looking like a million bucks. As they headed towards us, President Reagan beamed, threw his arm around my shoulder and said with a grin: “You know, Brian, for two Irishmen we sure married up.”
In that visit – in that moment – one saw the quintessential Ronald Reagan – the leader we respected, the neighbor we admired and the friend we loved – a president of the United States of America whose truly remarkable life we celebrate in this magnificent cathedral today. Presidents and prime ministers everywhere sometimes wonder how history will deal with them.
Some can even evince a touch of the insecurity of Thomas d’Arcy McGee, an Irish immigrant to Canada, who became a Father of our Confederation. In one of his poems, McGee, thinking of his birthplace, wrote poignantly:
“Am I remembered in Erin
I charge you, speak me true
Has my name a sound, a meaning
In the scenes my boyhood knew.”
Ronald Reagan will not have to worry about Erin because they remember him well and affectionately there. Indeed they do: from Erin to Estonia, from Maryland to Madagascar from Montreal to Monterey. Ronald Reagan does not enter history tentatively – he does so with certainty and panache. At home and on the world stage, his were not the pallid etchings of a timorous politician. They were the bold strokes of a confident and accomplished leader.
Some in the West during the early 1980s believed communism and democracy were equally valid and viable. This was the school of “moral equivalence.” In contrast Ronald Reagan saw Soviet communism as a menace to be confronted in the genuine belief that its squalid underpinning would fall swiftly to the gathering winds of freedom. Provided, as he said, that NATO and the industrialized democracies stood firm and united. They did. And we know now who was right.
Ronald Reagan was a president who inspired his nation and transformed the world. He possessed a rare and prized gift called leadership – that ineffable and sometimes magical quality that sets some men and women apart so that millions will follow them as they conjure up grand visions and invite their countrymen to dream big and exciting dreams.
I always thought that President Reagan’s understanding of the nobility of the presidency coincided with the American dream.
One day President Mitterrand in referring to President Reagan said: “Il a vraiment la notion de l’Etat.” Rough translation: “He really has a sense of the State about him.” The translation does not fully capture the profundity of the observation: what President Mitterrand meant was that there is a vast difference between the job of president and the role of president.
Ronald Reagan fulfilled both with elegance and ease, embodying himself that unusual alchemy of history, tradition, achievement, inspiration, conduct and national pride that define the special role the president of the United States must assume at home and around the world. “La notion de l’Etat” – no one understood it better than Ronald Reagan and no one more eloquently summoned his nation to high purpose or brought forth the majesty of the presidency and made it glow, better than the man who saw his country as a “shining city on a hill”
May our common future and that of our great nations be guided by wise men and women who will remember always the golden achievements of the Reagan era and the success that can be theirs if the values of freedom and democracy are preserved, unsullied and undiminished, until the unfolding decades remember little else.
I have been truly blessed to have had a friend like Ronald Reagan. I am grateful that our paths crossed and that our lives touched. I shall always remember him with deepest admiration and affection and I shall always feel honored by the journey we traveled together in search of better and more peaceful tomorrows for all God’s children, everywhere.
And so, in the presence of his beloved and indispensable Nancy, his children, family, friends and the American people he so deeply revered, I say “au revoir” today to a gifted leader, historic president and gracious human being. And I do so with a line from Yeats, who wrote: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends and say – my glory was that I had such friends.”
Former Sen. John Danforth, Episcopal Minister
May I speak in the name of one god, who created us, who redeemed us, who comforts us. Amen. This is a service about Ronald Reagan, and it is a religious service. We’ve gathered to celebrate the life of a great president in a church where believers profess their faith. So this is not only about a person, but about faith. And the homily is the place to connect the two.
For President Reagan, the text is obvious. It’s from the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.” It was his favorite theme, from his first inaugural address to his final address from the Oval Office. For him, America was the shining city on a hill. His immediate source was the sermon preached by John Winthrop, just read by Justice O’Connor.
Winthrop believed that the eyes of the world would be on America because God had given us a special commission, so it was our duty to shine forth. The Winthrop message became the Reagan message. It rang of optimism, and we longed to hear it, especially after the dark years of Vietnam and Watergate.
It was a vision with policy implications. America could not hide its light under a bushel. It could not turn in on itself and hunker down. Isolationism was not an option; neither was protectionism. We must champion freedom everywhere. We must be the beacon for the world.
What Ronald Reagan asked of America, he gave of himself. The great American theologian Reinhold Neibuhr wrote “Children of Light and The Children of Darkness.” If ever we have known a child of light, it was Ronald Reagan. He was aglow with it. He had no dark side, no scary, hidden agenda. What you saw, was what you got. And what you saw was that sure sign of inner light, the twinkle in the eye.
He was not consumed by himself. He didn’t need to be president to be a complete person. The only thing he really needed was to be with his wife. Mrs. Reagan, you shared him with us, and for that we will always be grateful. He shined the light, but not upon himself. Personally modest, he disclaimed the title the great communicator and claimed only to communicate great things from the heart of a great nation. He liked to laugh, especially at himself. There was nothing petty or mean-spirited about him. Even his opponents liked him. I recall sitting at a table with President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill listening to their jokes. It was the opposite of negative politics.
He inspired devotion more than fear. Mike Deaver wrote, “There was something about him that made you want to please him and do your best.” This applied to everybody. It certainly applied to those of us who served in Congress. His most challenging test came on the day he was shot. He wrote in his diary of struggling for breath and of praying.
“I realized that I couldn’t ask for God’s help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed-up young man who shot me,” he wrote. “Isn’t that the meaning of the lost sheep? We are all God’s children, and therefore equally loved by Him. So I began to pray for his soul and that he would find his way back to the fold.”
He was a child of light. Now consider the faith we profess in this church. Light shining in darkness is an ancient biblical theme. Genesis tells us that in the beginning, darkness was upon the face of the deep. Some equate this darkness with chaos. And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” Creating light in darkness is God’s work. You and I know the meaning of darkness. We see it on the evening news: terror, chaos, war. An enduring image of 9/11 is that on a brilliantly clear day a cloud of darkness covered Lower Manhattan.
Darkness is real, and it can be terrifying. Sometimes it seems to be everywhere. So the question for us is what do we do when darkness surrounds us? St. Paul answered that question. He said we must walk as children of light. President Reagan taught us that this is our mission, both as individuals and as a nation. The faith proclaimed in this church is that when we walk as children of light, darkness cannot prevail. As St. John’s gospel tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” That’s true even of death. For people of faith, death is no less awful than for anyone else, but the Resurrection means that death is not the end.
The Bible describes the most terrible moment in these words: “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until in the afternoon.” That was the darkness of Good Friday. It did not prevail. Very early on the first day of the week when the sun had risen, that’s the beginning of the Easter story. The light shines; the Lord is risen. In this service of worship, we celebrate the life of a great president, and we profess the resurrection faith of this church. It is faith in God’s victory over darkness. It is faith in the ultimate triumph of light. We believe in this victory every day of our lives. We believe it as individuals. We believe it as a nation.
There is no better time to celebrate the triumph of life than in a service for Ronald Reagan. Amen