- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

President Bush yesterday bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal on both Ronald and Nancy Reagan, calling the former president "one of the largest figures of our time."

"His name will always stand for courage and consistency, for patriotism and resolve, and for humor and optimism," Mr. Bush said at a Capitol ceremony. "He is a man of great talent and great character, yet his entire career is a tribute to the power of great ideas."

Mr. Reagan, 91, did not attend the event because he is suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease. Mrs. Reagan, 80, accepted the medals for herself and her husband at a ceremony attended by luminaries ranging from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to entertainer Merv Griffin, many of whom paid tribute to the Reagans.

"This is, very obviously, a very special occasion for me, and very memorable," Mrs. Reagan said. "I want to thank you, all of you, for all your expressions and what you've said."

The Gold Medal is the highest honor Congress can bestow on a civilian. Aside from the Reagans, the only other couple that has received the medals are former President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty.

Although Mr. Reagan is no longer cognizant of current events, Mr. Bush said yesterday that "he would recognize the country we have seen since September 11."

"He would look at the spirit and sacrifice of the firefighters, police officers, men and women of our military, average Americans, and he'd be proud," the president said. "He wouldn't be surprised.

"He knew the courage and decency and generosity at the heart of this country, because he shared it and he embodied it," Mr. Bush added.

Mrs. Reagan pointed out that yesterday's ceremony took place in the exact spot where she stood with her husband after he was inaugurated in 1981 and they learned the American hostages in Iran had been freed.

Mr. Bush praised the former first lady for her steadfast devotion to the nation's 40th president.

"At every step of an amazing life, Nancy Reagan has been at Ronald's side right by his side," he said. "As his optimism inspired us, her love and devotion strengthened him."

The president added: "Now on a difficult journey, we admire Nancy Reagan's eloquent example of loyalty and love."

The awards ceremony came 22 months after then President Clinton signed a resolution granting the Gold Medal to the Reagans. The resolution praised Mr. Reagan for ending the Cold War and restoring the nation's optimism. It also lauded Mrs. Reagan's anti-drug efforts.

Yesterday, Mr. Bush lauded the former first lady for "joining the fight against the terrible curse of Alzheimer's."

The president, whose father was Mr. Reagan's vice president and eventual successor, credited the "Gipper" with changing the American psyche.

"President Reagan believed deeply in American character and destiny," he said. "He believed deeply in the power of freedom to improve the lives of average men and women.

"These ideas changed America and they changed the world, not only because he eloquently explained them, but because they are right and they are true," he added.

Mr. Reagan was not the first person to be given the Congressional Gold Medal by Mr. Bush. The president has also bestowed the honor on the now-deceased Cardinal John O'Connor of New York and to a group of Navajo Indians for creating a military code of communication in World War II that could not be cracked by the Nazis.

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