WASHINGTON - On the day that President Reagan was buried in California, dozens of his former White House aides vowed to keep his legacy alive by educating a new generation about his achievements.
Gathered in the cavernous atrium of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building, yesterday's reunion of "Reaganites'' celebrated the life of the "Gipper'' with one last "cabinet meeting'' and a look at a newly minted video of Mr. Reagan's presidential legacy produced by the Republican National Committee.
Lou Cordia, head of the Reagan Alumni Association, urged the crowd to use "this one-week period of so much positive coverage about Ronald Reagan'' as a springboard to convert more Americans to the late president's conservative political philosophy.
"We can help Americans and those abroad understand the impact of the man we all knew,'' Mr. Cordia said. "We all have to think of ways to inform the world about Ronald Reagan, to look for ways to educate high-schoolers, children in grades K-8, and political candidates about him. We have to help get the word out.''
The reunion was hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a Washington think-tank whose "Mandate for Leadership'' provided a blueprint for the first six months of the Reagan Administration in 1981.
A number of those at the reunion also attended Mr. Reagan's funeral earlier in the day at the Washington National Cathedral. Those not invited to the funeral watched it on monitors set up on the edge of the atrium, in-between huge black and white photos of Mr. Reagan and his wife, Nancy.
Guests, most dressed in black, helped themselves to a lavish buffet as they greeted old friends and relived policy debates and campaign battles of the 1980's. Reflecting the composition of Mr. Reagan's White House, the crowd was well-heeled and nearly all-white. Among the guests was Patricia Nixon Cox, daughter of the late President Richard Nixon.
A number of guests wore large buttons bearing a color photo of Mr. Reagan in a plaid flannel shirt and cowboy hat. Small crystal bowls of Mr. Reagan's favorite candy, jelly beans, were placed on each table. A few children - girls in dresses and boys in suitcoats and ties - played quietly as their parents renewed old work ties.
The highlight of the event was the "cabinet meeting,'' at which former Reagan cabinet secretaries and top aides gathered in chairs around a table set up on a dais. Among the aides were former National Security advisers William Clark and Bud McFarlane, former Health and Human Services Secretary Richard Schweicker, former Interior Secretary Donald Hodel, former Transportation Secretary James Burnley, and former Energy secretaries James Edwards and John Herrington.
Two of the guests - former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese and former U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick - received prolonged, enthusiastic applause from the crowd. Ms. Kirkpatrick didn't speak, but Mr. Meese attempted to summarize Mr. Reagan's achievements in his two terms as president.
"What did Ronald Reagan do? He revitalized the economy, he rebuilt the national defense, he revived the spirit of the American people, he restored American's position of leadership in the world, and - oh, yeah - he won the Cold War too,'' Mr. Meese said.
Mr. Meese said Mr. Reagan was able to achieve all of that because of three special qualities: vision, courage, and perseverance.
"The best way to sum up Ronald Reagan's legacy is to quote what he said when he left office: 'We came to change a nation and we changed the world.'"
Martin Anderson, Mr. Reagan's domestic policy adviser, added that "Historians, when they come to writing about the 1980s, will simply write that Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest American presidents.
"Some called it the 'Reagan Revolution,''' Mr. Anderson said. "But Ronald Reagan would be the first to insist that it was not his revolution, that his victories came from the victories of tens of thousands of men and women like those gathered in this room.''
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