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Philly2Philly's Joe Vallee recalls meeting Ronald Reagan on what would be his 100th Birthday

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It was the summer of 1987, and my parents were taking my sister and I on a trip to Washington, D.C. forRonald Reagan photo: pubrecord.org a few days. This was no big deal. We often headed down there for a few days in the summer so we could broaden our horizons at our young ages.

But this time was going to be different. MUCH different.

By the time my dad drove into Maryland, my mom couldn’t keep the secret she was holding in any longer.

My grandfather, a friend of President Ronald Reagan’s for decades, was invited to lunch at the White House along with my grandmother at President Reagan’s request. But there was more.

We were also invited to join them at lunch!!

To say we were excited was a vast understatement. And the next day (I can’t remember exactly what we had for lunch, but the key lime pie we had for dessert was awesome!), we had the pleasure of meeting President Reagan as well as getting our picture with him (I know what you’re thinking: Joe, where IS this photo? I’m on vacation in California, so I’ll put it in the article after I get home so you know I’m not jiving you).

As a brazen nine year-old, I was notified by a secret service agent that I looked down on the ground when the picture was taken, so I cut all the way in front of the line and asked President Reagan if I could get a retake because nobody would believe me otherwise. He laughed hysterically, and gladly took a second shot.

My grandfather met Reagan in Hollywood in the 1940’s and stayed in touch with him after he returned home to New Jersey. For decades, he encouraged Reagan to run for president. While Reagan appreciated the compliments, he wanted to tackle the governor’s job in California before he even thought about heading to Washington. It wasn’t strange to hear my grandfather tell us how he was just talking with Reagan or his wife Nancy (if her husband was too busy) as we came over my grandparent’s house to visit.

As most of you know by now, Ronald Reagan would have been 100 years of age today, and it seems that history is looking back on his presidency in a much more positive manner than in a negative one.

There really isn’t a clear cut explanation why. There were pros and cons to his presidency. Reagan is responsible for ending the Cold War and his foreign policy skills were second to none. However, many blame Reagan partially responsible for the recession that took place after he left office. Yes, there were indeed some lingering effects of “Reaganomics.”

When you think about it, Reagan’s eight year presidency restored order to a chaotic White House previously surrounded by scandal (Nixon and Watergate), a presidential successor with a relatively uneventful term (Gerald Ford), and a one-term president (Jimmy Carter) followed by another one-term president when Reagan left office in 1989 (George H.W. Bush). Moreover, Reagan’s wholesome image is a stark contrast to President Clinton’s scandalous eight years in Washington, and that was followed by George W. Bush- probably the most scrutinized eight years in the history of United States presidency.

Most importantly, Ronald Reagan gave Americans a sense of hope in a much simpler time in our country’s history. President Obama has attempted a similar message of hope and change almost 30 years later in an older, wiser, but much more cynical America.

Time will tell if Obama had the same influence of Reagan or whether he can deliver on his promises (read Dennis' article for more on Reagan and Obama). But in a world of such uncertainty, chances are that Ronald Reagan’s legacy will only grow with time.

And somewhere, he’s looking down asking himself “Is this the same kid writing this article who walked in front of that White House line back in ‘87?"

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com 

Reagan photos: cristiannegureanu.blogspot.com,pubrecord.org