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Published: Saturday, 6/12/2004

Tears flow at Reagan burial

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON Ronald Wilson Reagan, for whom church bells tolled from coast to coast yesterday on a national day of mourning, was laid to rest last night on a California hilltop.

The sunset burial service at the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif. , closed the curtain on six days of national rememberance.

After maintaining her composure in public all week, Nancy Reagan

dissolved into tears after receiving the carefully folded flag that had encased her husband s casket. She rested her head on the coffin and cried softly while her children tried to comfort her.

Earlier yesterday, the 40th president was eulogized by President Bush as a man who belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to us.

At both the National Cathedral, where nearly 4,000 of the most

politically powerful leaders at home and abroad were gathered for the funeral, and at the burial site of the Ronald Reagan Presidential

Library, where 600 of the former actor s Hollywood friends were

invited to assemble, the homage was as much for Mr. Reagan s

cheerful, principled character as for his achievements in office.

Mr. Bush said that all who met Mr. Reagan encountered the same

sincere, upright fellow, adding that when Mr. Reagan was asked

after becoming governor of California if he ever considered becoming

president, the former actor joked, What s the matter? Don t you like

my acting either?

The President said that Mr. Reagan became a man advancing in years with the sweetness and sincerity of a scout reciting the pledge a man angered by injustice and frightened by nothing.

Mr. Reagan always said America s brightest days were ahead but, said Mr. Bush, with his passing a very fine man is behind us and that is worth our tears.

Unfailingly, the former president, who died last week at the age of

93 after more than a decade battling Alzheimer s disease, was honored for decency, patriotism, good humor, optimism, and kindness as well as helping free the slaves of communism, in the words of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Throughout the long day before the former president s remains were

entombed in Simi Valley near the Pacific Ocean, all eyes turned with

sympathy and affection to the former first lady, Nancy Reagan, 82.

She began the day, pale and exhausted but remarkably stoic, at the

Rotunda of the Capitol where her husband of more than half a century had been lying in state since Wednesday night. She leaned over the flag wrapped around the casket, whispered a few words known only to her, and kissed it.

She then left the Capitol, with a military aide holding a large black

umbrella over her. She clung to the arm of her military escort, Maj.

Gen. Galen Jackman, commander of the Military District of Washington, for the four-mile motorcade trip to the National Cathedral where the hour-and-a-half Episcopal service was held.

General Jackman has been with her in public throughout the past week and accompanied her on the five-hour flight back to California.

As she left Washington yesterday afternoon, he steadied her at the top of the steps of the plane as she waved to the crowd and blew a kiss.Only invited guests were present in the cathedral, and security was at the highest level as diplomats, members of the Supreme Court, Congress, all former U.S. presidents, and leaders from around the world began gathering.

Mrs. Reagan long ago worked out a detailed script of the funeral

arrangements with her husband of 52 years. She asked the Rev. John Danforth, a former senator from Missouri and an Episcopal priest, to officiate. To give the eulogies, she asked Mr. Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, who was Mr. Reagan s vice president for eight years, former Canadian prime minister Brian

Mulroney, and Mrs. Thatcher.

Mrs. Thatcher, who is ailing and wore a large black hat that largely

hid her face, was seated next to Mikhail Gorbachev, once the leader

of the Soviet Union, which Mr. Reagan called the evil empire. Under

medical directions not to give public speeches but determined to be

at the funeral, she had videotaped her remarks.

It is easy to forget what daunting historic tasks [Mr. Reagan] set himself, she said, noting he came to office determined to restore the strength of the free world and free the slaves of communism.

She said he committed himself to the great cause of cheering us all up. His jokes, she recalled, gave reassurance to an anxious world.

Noting Mr. Reagan s grace under pressure, Mrs. Thatcher said, His

politics had a freshness and an optimism that won converts from every class and every nation, even from the heart of the evil empire.

She said, With the lever of American patriotism, he lifted up the world, and said that everywhere, especially in Eastern Europe and

even in Moscow itself, the world mourns the passing of the great

liberator and echoes his prayer, God bless America.

Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher, united in their determination to

present a united front against communism, became fast friends. In her remarks, she called the former president Ronnie, the nickname his wife gave him. And yesterday, despite her frailness, Mrs. Thatcher, whose own husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, died a year ago, flew with Mrs. Reagan to California for the burial.

Former President Bush was the only speaker who choked up, pausing as he struggled to keep from breaking down as he said that he learned more from Mr. Reagan than from any other public servant. One lesson, the elder Mr. Bush said, was that Mr. Reagan never let an adversary become an enemy.

Why was he so admired? Why was he so beloved? Because of what he was strong and gentle, the former president said, adding that Mr. Reagan called America hopeful, big-hearted, caring, decent, and fair but that s what he was too.

And Mr. Bush told how Mr. Reagan, hospitalized for cancer, was on his hands and knees wiping up some spilled water out of fear a nurse might get in trouble.

Mr. Bush said that when Mr. Reagan left office, he put a note outside

the Oval Office to the many squirrels he loved to feed on the lawn to

watch out for the dog (the Bushes Millie, renown for terrorizing

squirrels) and left a note for the incoming president that said,

Don t let the Turkeys get you down.

The current president, George W. Bush, evoked smiles and tears when he said that Mr. Reagan passed through a thousand places but often said only one person could make him lonely just by leaving the room his wife. The whole nation grieves with you and your family, he told the former first lady.

The audience laughed when Mr. Bush told of a boy who wrote to Mr.

Reagan to ask for federal disaster assistance to help clean up his

room. 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.

In a eulogy written by head speechwriter Michael Gerson, Mr. Bush

recalled that Mr. Reagan believed that people were basically good

and had the right to be free and that bigotry and prejudice were

the worst things a person could be guilty of.

Mr. Bush said that Mr. Reagan was optimistic that liberty would

thrive wherever it was planted, and he acted to defend liberty

wherever it was threatened. And when Mr. Reagan saw evil camped across the horizon, he called evil by its name, Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Danforth said that the theme of Mr. Reagan s presidency came from the scriptures: You are the light of the world, a city sat on a hill

cannot be hid. Mr. Reagan frequently referred to America as a

shining city on a hill.

Ronald Reagan had no dark side, no scary hidden agenda, Mr.

Danforth said. He was not consumed by himself. He didn t need to be president There was nothing petty or mean-spirited about him. Even his enemies liked him. He inspired devotion more than fear.

The minister continued, If ever we have known a child of light, it

was Ronald Reagan. He was aglow with it.

Mrs. Reagan asked Irish tenor Robin Tynan to sing Amazing Grace and Ave Maria. The Marine Band played the stirring Battle Hymn of the Republic. She did not weep during the service, but invoked the famous Nancy Reagan gaze as she listened to the praise for her husband. lost in pride much as she used to listen to his speeches.

Occasionally she exchanged smiles with her daughter Patti seated next to her. Patti Davis, who took the maiden name of her mother and was estranged from the family for many years, was reconciled during her father s struggle with Alzheimer s.

Also seated with Mrs. Reagan were her son Ron and his wife and

Michael, Mr. Reagan s son with his first wife, Jane Wyman. Reagan s

other daughter, Maureen, died of cancer at the age of 60.

During the service Mrs. Reagan seemed to relax and as she walked down the aisle at the end she nodded to old friends and seemed to gain strength.

The list of dignitaries assembled in the cathedral was remarkable.

All remaining former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W.

Bush, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter and their wives attended.

Members of Congress included Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic

candidate for president. Many former Reagan cabinet officials were

there as were a number of current heads of state. Britain s Prince

Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair were both there. Germany s

Gerhardt Schroeder was there, as was U.N. Secretary-General Kofi

Annan. For the more emotional burial in Mr. Reagan s beloved

California, personal friends such as Betsy Bloomingdale, the current

governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many personalities the Reagans knew such as Kirk Douglas, Merv Griffin, Tom Selleck, and the Sinatra family were invited.

As Mr. Reagan s casket was put into the limousine for the final ride

to Andrews Air Force Base yesterday, military musicians played God

Bless America and a bell slowly tolled 40 times, recognizing Mr.

Reagan s status as the 40th president. As the bell faded away, it was

followed by cascading peals of bells. What Nancy Reagan and families of Alzheimer s victims call the long good-bye was over.

Contact Ann McFeatters at:amcfeatters@nationalpress.comor

202-662-7071.

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