- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Donald T. Regan, who gladdened conservatives’ hearts as President Reagan’s chief of staff, died of cancer yesterday at 84.

In a White House that had its share of palace intrigue and backbiting, Mr. Regan managed to hold two top jobs before falling victim to first lady Nancy Reagan’s animosity in the second term of the Reagan presidency.

Mr. Regan’s passing marks the first death of a high-profile figure in the Reagan administration.

Mr. Regan came from Wall Street — where he had been chairman of the Merrill Lynch brokerage firm — to be Mr. Reagan’s first Treasury secretary but switched jobs with James A. Baker III to become White House chief of staff in 1985, at the start of the second Reagan term.

“When Don Regan came to the White House, it was a sea change,” said Paul M. Weyrich, who co-founded the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank, before going on to establish the Free Congress Foundation.

“In President Reagan’s first term, we had to battle Jim Baker the whole time, and [Mr. Baker] was allied with [Reagan image-maker and pragmatist Michael] Deaver,” Mr. Weyrich said.

Mr. Regan, a former Marine, helped push the biggest tax cut in American history through Congress in the first year of the Reagan presidency.

“Very definitely, Regan was better than Baker for conservatives,” said conservative activist and fund-raiser Richard Viguerie. “Regan wasn’t conservative but he wasn’t anticonservative either. Baker was.”

Mr. Viguerie said it was due to Mr. Regan that staunch conservative Pat Buchanan was brought into the Reagan White House as communications director.

Mr. Regan “wanted a list of conservatives to come into the speechwriting department,” Mr. Viguerie said. “They gave him a list that he rejected. When he saw Buchanan on the second list submitted, he said, ‘Aha, I want him.’”

Jack Kemp, a former Cabinet official who earlier had helped put the tax-cutting stamp on the Reagan administration as a congressman from New York, yesterday called Mr. Regan a “man’s man who, above all, was loyal to President Reagan.”

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow yesterday called Mr. Regan “a great Treasury secretary and an innovative leader of the American business community.”

Even Mrs. Reagan, who was instrumental in getting Mr. Regan fired midway into Mr. Reagan’s second term, had words of praise.

“I was very sad this morning when I heard of Don Regan’s death,” she said in a statement issued in Los Angeles. “From the Marine Corps to Wall Street to the Treasury Department to the White House, Don served this country with great distinction. Our sympathy and prayers go to Ann [Mr. Regans wife] and the entire Regan family.”

Mr. Regan, forced out in 1987, got even with Mrs. Reagan the following year by publishing a biography in which he revealed that she had consulted frequently with an astrologer about planning the travel schedule of her husband, the president.

“Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House chief of staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes,” Mr. Regan wrote.

Though Mr. Regan was not viewed as philosophically conservative, Mr. Weyrich said, as chief of staff he sought a fair hearing for the religious, social and economic conservatives in the Republican electoral coalition.

“The first week Regan was there he called a meeting of all the conservative allies,” Mr. Weyrich said. “I hosted the meeting, and heard Regan say, ‘You’re the people who got Reagan elected. I want to see to it you are treated fairly.’”

But Mr. Regan managed to annoy the first lady. In one case, Mr. Regan called for a presidential helicopter to take him to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where the president underwent cancer surgery in 1995. After an angry phone call from Mrs. Reagan, Mr. Regan decided to go by car instead.

The final straw came with revelations of the Iran-Contra scandal. The Reagan administration had sold arms to Iran in an effort to free U.S. hostages held in the Middle East; some of the arms-sale money went to the Contra rebels fighting the Soviet-backed Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

A presidential board of inquiry headed by former Sen. John Tower found Mr. Regan responsible for what it called “chaos” in the White House.

In February 1987, Mr. Regan first heard he had been replaced as chief of staff by former Tennessee Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. from National Security Adviser Frank Carlucci, who in turn had seen it in a TV news report.

Mr. Regan died of cancer at Williamsburg Community Hospital in Williamsburg, where he had a home. Besides his wife, Ann Buchanan Regan, he is survived by four children — Donna Regan Lefeve, Donald Regan Jr., Richard Regan and Diane Regan Doniger — and nine grandchildren.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide