Saturday, June 12, 2004

Reagan: America gives final farewell

Grand funeral, beautiful burial

By Carl Weiser
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON - In grand oratory and small, funny stories, President Reagan was remembered Friday as a gentleman who was always kind, a world leader who knew what was right and a man who was lonely when his wife left the room.

"His convictions were always politely stated, affably argued and as firm and straight as the columns of this cathedral," President Bush said.

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Ronald Reagan left Washington for the last time after a funeral at Washington National Cathedral where the 40th president was mourned by every living U.S. president, world leaders, friends and family.

Reagan, who died June 5 at age 93, was buried at sunset Friday during a beautiful California evening at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. It marked the end of a week of national mourning in which hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans streamed past his casket both in Simi Valley, Calif., and at the U.S. Capitol.

Former President George H.W. Bush stopped briefly in his eulogy, fighting back tears as he remembered Reagan.

"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," the elder Bush said. "I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did."

The assembly of leaders gathered at the funeral included most of the Senate, the Supreme Court, former President Clinton, former President Ford, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and even the new president of Iraq.

"I thought it was fitting" for the man being honored, Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning said of the funeral. "It was classy. It was sedate. People were to the point."

Kentucky's senior senator, Mitch McConnell, called the ceremony spectacular.

"The whole week has been wonderful. The president is getting recognition he deserves even from some of his bitterest enemies," he said. "It's been a sweet experience." He wouldn't say who those enemies are.

Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine said he found the ceremony moving.

"The president would have appreciated it very much," he said.

Also attending were local House members, including Rep. Steve Chabot and Rep. Rob Portman - who brought his daughter Sally, 9, and a niece - and the governors of Ohio and Kentucky.

Outside the cathedral, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft recalled the Aug. 20, 1984, rally on Fountain Square where he first met Reagan.

"It was probably the most powerful political event I ever attended," Taft said, still marveling at Reagan's ability to connect with ordinary Americans.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher delivered her message via video, presented on flat-screen televisions arranged throughout the cathedral. Weakened by small strokes over the years, Thatcher - who attended the funeral - taped her message months ago and bade farewell to "Ronnie," saying she lost a good friend.

"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," Thatcher said in one of the many tributes to Nancy Reagan at the funeral.

Reagan, who was president from 1981 to 1989, was remembered for restoring the nation's economy and its pride. His victory in the Cold War meant that Reagan had "freed the slaves of communism," as Thatcher put it.

Both the readings and the speeches evoked Reagan's often-used phrase of America being a "shining city on a hill." It comes from the Bible, but Pilgrim leader John Winthrop used it in a sermon to describe America in 1630 - a sermon that was read by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, appointed by Reagan to be the first woman on the high court.

"For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us," she said.

Speaker after speaker riffed on Reagan's idea that America was a light to the world. With unspoken allusions to the war on terrorism, President Bush credited Reagan for believing the truth of calling evil what it was.

Janet Barker-Valerius of Liberty Twp. holds a photograph of herself with President Ronald Reagan aboard Air Force One. She served for five years aboard Air Force One as an Air Force Technical Sergeant.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
John Danforth, a former Missouri senator and Episcopal priest, said Reagan was a "child of light."

"He was aglow with it. He had no dark side, no scary, hidden agenda. What you saw was what you got," said Danforth, who has been nominated to be ambassador to the United Nations. "And what you saw was that sure sign of inner light, the twinkle in the eye."

The extraordinary gathering of leaders for the funeral meant that afterward, governors mingled with Supreme Court justices, and Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, found herself reunited with Annan, kissing his cheek and exclaiming "Kofi!"

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who got trounced by Reagan in the 1984 election, said he knew Reagan well and liked him.

"If you may remember, we had a nice campaign. And that was partly because of him," Mondale said.

A throng of Reagan supporters gathered outside the cathedral in a drizzle. A handful of protesters showed up, too.

A dozen protesters carrying signs that read "Reagan caused death and suffering to others" complained that Reagan supported anti-communist groups in Central America that murdered hundreds of thousands.

His trickle-down economic policy hurt the poor and he slashed budgets of programs that helped the needy and mentally ill, said David Barrows, 56, a member of the D.C. Anti-War Network.

But inside the cathedral, the soaring notes of "Amazing Grace," the balcony-shaking organ, and a variety of military choruses told another story: that a man had lived both a happy life and a good life, and that it was over.

"Now, death has done all that death can do," President Bush said. "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."


Gannett News Service reporter Greg Wright contributed to this report.

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