Ronald Reagan : A Part of American History
Ronald Reagan :
A Part of
Remarks by President George W. Bush in Eulogy at National Funeral
Service for Former President Ronald Wilson Reagan.
The National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., June 11, 2004.
The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. 12:09 P.M. EDT.
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
ten 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 you remember 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 a 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 happened 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
And he believed in taking a
break now and then, because, as he 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?'" (Laughter.)
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 slavemasters, 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
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 reward 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 as 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 ties
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 a decency and attention to small
kindnesses that also defined 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. (Laughter.)
The President replied that, "unfortunately,
funds are dangerously low." (Laughter.) 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.
Sure, 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 his steady stride, that tilt of a head and snap of a
salute, the big-screen smile, and the glint in his Irish eyes when a story came
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 to 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 his parting gone forever.
May God bless Ronald Reagan, and
the country he loved.
END 12:26 P.M. EDT