Farewell, Mr. President

I had the rare opportunity today to say farewell to the greatest President of my lifetime so far. Being from California and having the Reagan Library practically down the street meant I had the chance to pay my respects in a very small, yet personally moving way.

My company actually let us leave early to view the motorcade pass by—especially since many of the roads in the immediate area were to be closed for the event. The Reagan Library is nearby in Simi Valley, and Thousand Oaks (where I work) is right on the way. I’m glad that my employers realized the solemnity of the occasion, though some of that may have been just to avoid traffic headaches.

I drove up to a friend’s house which is very near Lynn Road, where the procession passed. I couldn’t believe how many people were there lining the roadway; they had actually begun to stake out their spots in the morning. Many people were there with their kids of all ages, people in uniform, probably every California Highway Patrol officer within 100 miles—an amazing cross-section of people. As it was described on the news by several commentators, it seemed more like people lining up for a 4th of July parade than anything. So many American flags…

Every time a CHP car or motorcycle passed by, or a helicopter flew overhead, all eyes turned south, preparing for a glimpse of the event. Eventually, a platoon of dozens of CHP motorcycles raced by in their leapfrog maneuvers to block the intersections for the motorcade. A couple of CHP cars, a white-ish Chevy Avalanche filled with TV cameramen and then the hearse bearing the President’s body. Some people cheered and clapped as it passed by, but overall it seemed to die down rather quickly as a peculiar silence hushed the crowd. The family and various dignitaries passed in limos and regular cars, then it was all over.

I had thought about how I would feel and why I was even there in the first place. I don’t normally do much relating to the dead, and certainly not people I don’t know personally, But this was different—this was the greatest man who has held the office of President since I’ve been on this earth. When the hearse approached, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything more than come to attention and salute the man, hand over my heart. I silently pondered what he did for our country and the tears flowed, unbidden. I remembered back to election eve 1980, when I was working at my local Republican HQ—manning the phones as a 17-year-old volunteer who couldn’t even vote yet. I was the very tiniest part of what became a golden time for the USA and the world. Since that time I’ve never felt compelled to work for any political party or event—there’s just nothing inspiring in it for me after that experience. I scan the current political scene and the horizon for something or someone who can even begin to approach the same stature—I can’t see anything…

No doubt many of my fellow citizens lining the road had their beefs with Reagan—the man, his policies, whatever. But at least they demonstrated that we Americans can grant respect where it’s due. Of course, I then had to go home later on and watch the internment ceremony on TV and see many of the “great” people of politics and entertainment paying their last, final respects. I’ll never forget seeing Baroness Margaret Thatcher—Reagan’s staunchest ally and friend— stand at the foot of his casket and bow her head before moving on. Indeed—Ronald Wilson Reagan was one of the greats.

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