Jewish World Review June 16, 2004 /27 Sivan, 5764
Edward I. Koch
Behind every hero …
Ronald Reagan is an American hero, as evidenced by the enormous, national outpouring of affection and respect that accompanied his recent death.
Three remarkable women who, following the deaths of their husbands, helped enhance the enormous veneration of their spouses' memories are Nancy Reagan, Jacqueline Kennedy and Coretta Scott King. Without the presence and dignity of these three widows at their husbands' funerals and beyond, I doubt that we would have seen such an immediate acceptance of their husbands in America's national pantheon of heroes.
Of the three, I think Ronald Reagan is clearly the most beloved. His support crosses party lines, notwithstanding the fact that our country is nearly split down the middle on most issues. Reagan's domestic policies were, in the opinion of many, exceedingly conservative. But he had charm and character, and all negatives resulting from policies are trumped by those rare virtues.
John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, caught the imagination of the public by transforming the White House to a great extent into a kind of Camelot, a place that was part real and part fantasy, but which we accepted in our longing for a respite from the real world. But this special couple lived there, and invited the rest of us to dwell in a beautiful fantasyland. JFK inspired in us a sense of duty to the country with his ringing phrase, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
Finally, Martin Luther King, Jr. did for the United States what Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela did for India and South Africa, respectively. He and they made us want to be better than we were as human beings and as citizens.
These thoughts were on my mind on the morning of Friday, June 11, as I flew down to Washington in the private plane of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to attend Ronald Reagan's funeral at the National Cathedral. The Mayor gave me one of the two tickets allotted to him. I am grateful to the Mayor and his friend, New York State Banking Superintendent Diana Taylor, who would usually be accompanying him on such an occasion for providing me the opportunity to go in her place.
I arrived at the Cathedral at 10:30 a.m. Because of Mayor Bloomberg's status, we were escorted to seats in the main aisle. The Cathedral is enormous, seating 4,000, and when the service began, we quickly realized we would see little because of our distance from the pulpit and casket. Those in the side aisles with access to wall televisions would see far better than we. But, we could hear well, and the dignitaries addressing the congregation, including both Presidents Bush, 41 and 43, were superb. The presiding minister was John Danforth, a former Senator from Missouri, who was until recently a partner at Bryan Cave LLP, the law firm in which I am a partner, and has now been appointed by President Bush to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Over the speakers box, we heard the distinctly recognizable voice of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, recorded some time ago, because of her frail physical condition. The Iron Lady is now more memory than presence. The speakers dwelt on Reagan's character and accomplishments. Time and again, his enormous achievement in bringing down the Soviet Union without firing a shot, as described by Margaret Thatcher was mentioned.
The service took about an hour, after which we flew back to New York City. From 7 to 11 p.m. I watched on television the private funeral at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, to which 700 close friends, family and dignitaries had been invited. I learned from CNN that the library of President Reagan had been offered to Stanford University and had been rejected at the request of liberal faculty and students.
What shortsighted fools they were. They turned their backs on history for the sake of political correctness.
Years before his death, Ronald Reagan and Nancy had agreed that his interment would take place at sunset, which is particularly glorious in California and is the time of day Ronald Reagan loved most. And so it did, but not before the President's three surviving children, Michael, Ron and Patti, spoke to the mourners. Their eulogies, which were made without teleprompters and virtually without notes were, in each case, beautifully delivered. They were exceedingly personal, poignant, charming, funny and honest as they shared their intimate and private recollections of their father. Each caused me to weep with them and Nancy. Nancy's final goodbye, her face and hands lovingly caressing the casket and holding the American flag that covered it, surrounded by her three children, was lovely and affecting, and an image never to be forgotten.
Yes, Ronald Reagan's family loved him dearly. And so did we all.
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© 2002, Edward I. Koch