- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

As Ronald Reagan’s long journey comes to a close, his noble example stands before us. His presence in smile and grace, courage and kindness, wisdom and unwavering fidelity to principle is like a tower, a castle. In 1952, he said, “I’ve always believed that we are, each of us, put here for a reason, that there is a … divine plan for all of us.” No life proved that belief more justified than his own.

Much will be written in the days ahead about Ronald Reagan’s leadership. Most will remember the president’s courage, decency, love of freedom and commitment to others. Some will note that he was single-minded in his commitment to democracy and individual liberties. Some will recount his 1964 speech, in which he held, “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. … We must have the courage to do what is morally right.”

Others will remember his unbending determination to end “The Evil Empire,” the former Soviet Union. Mr. Reagan would not accommodate, placate, indulge or converge with the Soviet Union’s evil leadership. Mankind’s future was too important. If he could not purge the world of evil, he could recognize it. And inspire others to resist it. He was willing to keep the United States focused on its own idealism. He lifted our spirits and then the spirits of others. He dared tell the Soviet leader in 1987, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The Berlin Wall is no more.

But Ronald Reagan also had a timeless message for us, as individual Americans. It was and is to reach higher, stretch further, respect the granite values upon which this nation was founded, and hold ourselves to them.

When I worked for him in 1981, 1982 and 1983, I was a young believer, in his idealism and in him. Today, I am simply an older believer, in his idealism and in him. I watched him receive and inspire the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and Anwar Sadat. The nations they led changed, just as the United States changed, in the light of his convictions. Simple as those convictions were, they have held.

He believed that if we can envision a better world, we can make it so. To Mr. Reagan, “better” meant noble, toward a greater good for all humanity, freer, stronger, more harmonious, but in harmony with a future built on bedrock values. Uncompromising on heart or integrity, he was happy to share political victories of the sort so often these days fought to a bitter end in Washington.

Self-deprecating good humor was his hallmark. I still remember jokes he told with a smile. But that is also rare these days. He knew that laughter at one’s own expense is the warmest kind. He was serious about the future of mankind, but never too serious about his own role in what, as it has turned out, was destiny.

In 1993, he was crisp and thoughtful. I had a chance to visit with him one-on-one to say thank you, for the chance to serve and for all he did. Just one American, I wanted to say what many felt, that he was a real hero of our time. He listened, looked down, smiled and said “thank you.” Leaving, I was struck by how healthy he was. I told him he looked “fit as a fiddle.” That made him smile. “You know, I did play football as a young man,” he quipped.

Here, then, is the debt we owe. He was not merely a great man, but a good man. We owe him for his timeless example, one that compares favorably with Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. He stands before us as an example of what is possible. And he was right. From a nation that is good, will come leaders who are great.

This is a day of sorrow, but also thanks. As statues are built and coins struck to commemorate Ronald Reagan, children and others will wonder about this man. Our debt to him begins to be repaid when we remind them that his grace and wisdom, strength and integrity were real, and that his example stands before each of us for all time. Equal to his time, but a beacon for those who will draw on his strength in future times, he was the one who said: “With our eyes fixed on the future, but recognizing the realities of today … we will achieve our destiny to be as a shining city on a hill for all mankind to see.” Today, as in the past, he lights our way.

Robert Charles is assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement. He worked in the first-term Reagan White House on domestic policy, and visited the former president in 1993.

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