- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Ronald Reagan was more than the president. He was an inspiration. He was my friend.

As America mourns former President Ronald Reagan, it is appropriate that our nation take a moment to reflect on the life of this remarkable man. He not only will be remembered for his vision and leadership, but also for his conviction and principles, his sense of pride and love of country.

Mr. Reagan made a difference in my life both personally and politically. When he was elected in 1980, I remember vividly saying to my wife Priscilla, “This is such an important election for our nation that I have to become involved.” I had no idea his election would one day lead me to seek elective office.

Knowing Ronald Reagan and serving in the U.S. Congress when he was president has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I remember when he came to Florida in 1988 to campaign for me in my race for the Senate. I introduced him, saying: “Mr. President, we will never forget that you gave us back a belief in ourselves andournation.You restarted our economy, giving people hope and opportunity. You rebuilt America’s military and led the fight for freedom around the world.” Ronald Reagan was more than the president. He was an inspiration. He was a friend.

American presidents affect history in their own way, but fewer have made more of an impact or shaped the history of their times than Ronald Reagan.

In the election of 1980, Americans were faced with one of the most simple, yet defining questions in American politics: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Were we as Americans willing to accept that the once-proud land of the free and the home of the brave was now worn and tired and lacked direction? America said, “No!”

Ronald Reagan reaffirmed my philosophy that wealth and prosperity emerge from the spirit of creativity that resides in individuals, not the government. Freedom deeply mattered to Ronald Reagan, and freedom deeply matters to me.

With Ronald Reagan’s election came a renewed vitality in America. He boosted the morale of our country and brought a belief that freedom and opportunity should not be limited. He reminded us of the America that was there all along. A freedom-loving country waiting to be unshackled from a government that had grown too big and cost too much, which dictated what was best for us. No, we wanted better, and Mr. Reagan led us there.

Under Mr. Reagan’s leadership, the spirit of America was rekindled and the flame of freedom burned bright: free markets, free ideas, free trade and freedom as the centerpiece of our foreign policy. The Reagan Revolution had no boundaries. The winds of freedom swept across America and gained momentum throughout the world. Freedom’s ring was heard in Latin America, where nations turned back Communism and accepted the free will of the people. In Eastern Europe, freedom broke the rusted chains of totalitarianism and caused the Berlin Wall to fall.

Ronald Reagan never lost faith in the freedom, dignity and liberty of mankind. He understood that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. He never doubted that freedom was more than a virtue. It was a right given to each of us by a sovereign God.

Ronald Reagan did not invent freedom. He defined it. For through his wit and humility, he carried his role in history as the man who gave freedom a face. And through his undying faith in those who entrusted to him the role as their leader, Mr. Reagan achieved greatness.

Even though former President Reagan has now completed the journey he began so many years ago, our nation has not yet completed the path we began under his leadership. Ronald Reagan made America stronger, more prosperous and more confident. We still need to do more to make our country and the world a better and safer place to live, work and raise a family. We must continue his legacy so as to ensure that America remains that shinning city on the hill that Mr. Reagan described to us.

To Nancy and the Reagan family, our nation is forever in your debt for sharing this unique and special individual with us, the American people.

Former President Reagan, we say goodbye for now. You have touched our lives deeply. You have indeed lived the words of sacred scripture: “You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith.”

Godspeed, Mr. President.

Connie Mack of Florida served in the Senate (1989-01) and the House (1983-89).

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