The Reagan Cabinet gathered once more yesterday afternoon as the late president’s casket flew back to California for burial.
More than 500 people who served as members of the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1989 gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building at Federal Triangle, including 15 of the former president’s top advisers convening a final Cabinet meeting with a symbolic empty chair at the oval table.
“One of Reagan’s strengths was his perseverance,” said Edwin Meese III, Mr. Reagan’s chief White House policy adviser when he became president in 1981, and later attorney general.
“Many of you will remember how he said that when he was working out something with the Congress, ‘Well if I can get half a loaf, I’ll take that. But then I’ll come back and get the rest of it,’” said Mr. Meese, 72. “And that was true, whether it was the military budget, or whether it was tax reform, or … the perseverance in dealing with the Soviet Union.”
Former Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel, 69, who also served as the secretary of energy and undersecretary of the interior, is now president of Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family.
“We knew it was coming,” he said, and noted the “tremendous outpouring of support” for his former boss. “He was very kind, considerate and tough as nails. He simply knew what he wanted to do and stayed the course.”
Stephen J. Entin, 56, former deputy assistant secretary for economic policy from 1981 to 1988, said many forget Mr. Reagan had a degree in economics.
“He had the best grasp of these tax issues than any president that I have ever seen,” Mr. Entin said.
Steven R. Valentine, 48, who was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department from 1987 to 1989, had less contact with Mr. Reagan, but said he was able to see him speak several times.
“I think he was the best public speaker I have ever seen and heard,” Mr. Valentine said as he watched Mr. Reagan’s widow board the plane for California at one of the many television display areas. “It was great honor to serve in his administration. … This is very sad, but I feel very grateful to God for his life.”
Linda Arey Skladany, Mr. Reagan’s former special assistant and deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and a retired member of President Bush’s administration, had memories of a man who took time to dig through a gigantic jar of jelly beans just to give her children the red ones instead of the less-acceptable black licorice ones.
“I loved him, I loved him, I loved him,” Mrs. Skladany said. “He was a special kind of person.”
Other administration figures in attendance included James Miller, budget director; Richard V. Allen, William P. Clark, and Robert C. McFarlane, national security advisers; William H. Webster, FBI director; Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, United Nations ambassador; and James B. Edwards and John S. Herrington, energy secretaries.
Also, Ann McLaughlin Korologos, labor secretary; Richard S. Schweiker, health and human services secretary; James H. Burnley, transportation secretary; John R. Block, agriculture secretary; William E. Brock and Clayton Yeutter, U.S. trade representatives; Edwin L. Harper, deputy management and budget director; and senior adviser Martin Anderson.
Mr. Anderson, now a senior scholar and author at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said historians 100 years from now “will simply write that Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest American presidents.”