After a week of mourning and remembrance, Ronald Reagan will receive a state funeral Friday at the National Cathedral in Washington, and he will be laid to rest at a private ceremony later in the day at his presidential library in California.
The Reagan family yesterday announced plans to allow America to bid farewell to the former president, culminating Friday in a day of national mourning and the nation’s first presidential state funeral since the 1973 death of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
“As you can understand, the family is in deep mourning over the loss of a husband, a father, a grandfather and their hero,” Reagan family spokeswoman Joanne Drake said yesterday in announcing the plans.
Today and tomorrow, Mr. Reagan will lie in repose in the main lobby of his library in Simi Valley, Calif. He will then be flown to Washington with his family aboard the plane usually used as Air Force One.
In a Wednesday evening ceremony, a white, horse-drawn caisson will carry the body to the U.S. Capitol in a ceremony resembling the funeral procession after President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.
Since Mr. Johnson’s death, only one former president, Richard Nixon, has died. He was buried in 1994 without official Washington ceremony, although all former presidents are entitled to a state funeral if the family asks.
The casket will lie in state in the Rotunda beneath the Capitol dome through Friday morning, when the week of events will climax with dignitaries from around the globe gathering at the National Cathedral to witness the funeral ceremony.
Mr. Reagan will be buried later Friday at his presidential library. The pallbearers will include Frederick J. Ryan Jr., chairman of the board of the Ronald Reagan Foundation; entertainer Merv Griffin; Charles Wick, former head of the U.S. Information Agency during the Reagan administration; Michael Deaver, one of Mr. Reagan’s top White House advisers; and Dr. John Hutton, Mr. Reagan’s longtime physician.
President Bush, in proclaiming Friday as a National Day of Mourning, said, “President Reagan has left us, but he has left us stronger and better. We take comfort in the knowledge that he has left us for a better place, the shining city that awaits him.”
The president also ordered flags to be flown at half-staff on all federal government buildings and sites for 30 days.
Ms. Drake yesterday gave thanks for the outpouring of support since Mr. Reagan’s death Saturday in Los Angeles at 93, saying family members were “deeply touched by the outpouring of sympathy from across the country and around the world.”
“The phone has been ringing to the point that it’s hard to keep up with it,” said Ms. Drake, choking back tears. “I’m not surprised. I have worked for him for 20 years, and I think he is one of the best presidents this country has ever had.”
Ms. Drake, who served as Mr. Reagan’s chief of staff for the past decade, said Nancy Reagan was saddened by her husband’s passing after years of Alzheimer’s disease but took solace in the end of Mr. Reagan’s suffering.
“While it is an extremely sad time for Mrs. Reagan, there is definitely a sense of relief that he is no longer suffering and that he has gone to another place,” she said.
Mr. Reagan announced in 1994 that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and Ms. Drake said yesterday, “It has been really hard” on Mrs. Reagan for the past 10 years.
A makeshift shrine continued to mount outside the presidential library in Simi Valley, with admirers streaming in to pay respects to the one-time Hollywood star who rose to be governor of California and then the 40th president of the United States.
Shortly after the announcement of Mr. Reagan’s death on Saturday, officials had closed the library, but they were forced to reopen the grounds by the unstoppable flow of mourners, arriving with flowers, wreaths, memorial cards and jars of jellybeans — the president’s favorite candy.
According to Ms. Drake, Mrs. Reagan and her two children, Ron and Patti, were at the former president’s bedside when he died, declining to offer further details on his health, which finally collapsed when he caught pneumonia.
But his son, Michael, who was adopted by Mr. Reagan and his first wife Jane Wyman, just missed his father’s death after being caught in Los Angeles traffic, Ms. Drake said.
Mr. Bush, in France to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day, recalled that 20 years earlier, Mr. Reagan had come to Normandy for a 40-year commemoration.
“He was a courageous leader himself and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom, and today, we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan,” Mr. Bush said.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said Congress would pass a resolution tomorrow that would allow Mr. Reagan’s body to lie in state in the Capitol building.
Meanwhile, the cascade of fond remembrances from U.S. and foreign leaders continued to dominate the news yesterday, including praise for Mr. Reagan from former Presidents George Bush and Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Bush, who served as Mr. Reagan’s vice president, said Mr. Reagan taught him lessons about principle, kindness and humor.
“Ronald Reagan was unfailingly courteous to the people around him, thoughtful to the little guy, the elevator operator, the butler at the White House,” Mr. Bush told Time magazine.
“I was in awe,” Mr. Bush said. “President Reagan went to Normandy and gave those great speeches. When he came back, I asked him, ‘How did you ever get through those speeches without breaking up?’ He said, “Here’s what you do. You write it out yourself, and then you say it over and over again. And by doing that, it is still personal the way you say it, but you don’t feel that you are apt to choke up.’ ”
Mr. Carter, who lost his 1980 re-election bid to Mr. Reagan, echoed those sentiments, saying, “I probably know as well as anybody what a formidable communicator and campaigner President Reagan was.”
“It was because of him that I was involuntarily retired from my last job in November of 1980,” Mr. Carter said in Georgia, noting that his defeat came amid the Cold War and other international crises such as the hostage standoff between the United States and Iran.
“It was during those troubled times that [Mr. Reagan] came into the political picture as a governor of California, former governor, and he presented some very concise, very clear messages that really appealed to the American people,” Mr. Carter said. “I think throughout his term in office, he was obviously very worthy of the moniker that was put on him, that is, the Great Communicator.”
In a separate essay for Time magazine written before Mr. Reagan’s death, Mrs. Reagan referred to her husband as an “eternal optimist” for the public and, for her, a “very sentimental, romantic and tender” husband.
Mr. Reagan wrote letters to his wife when they were apart and sent flowers to his mother-in-law “to thank her for having me,” Mrs. Reagan wrote.
“He was the eternal optimist — the glass is always half full, not half empty,” Mrs. Reagan said. “Since he felt that everything happens for a reason, he never saw things darkly.”
James A. Baker III, who served as Mr. Reagan’s first White House chief of staff and later as Treasury secretary, recalled how Mr. Reagan was a leader who “knew when to hold them and he knew when to fold them.”
“I remember President Reagan telling me on a number of occasions that he would rather get 80 percent of what he wanted than go over the cliff with his flag flying, as he used to say,” Mr. Baker said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Mr. Baker added, “Nobody ever accused the Gipper of being squishy, but he was a darned good negotiator and he knew when to compromise.”
But Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Reagan’s national security adviser, noted that his former boss always took a principled stand against communism.
“The president always believed that the Soviet people deserved a better system than the system they had. And he was going to make it happen not by war, but by peace, by showing the power of democracy,” Mr. Powell said on CNN.
Peggy Noonan, a speechwriter for Mr. Reagan, fondly remembered him as “a doll,” and “a deeply courteous boss,” citing the case of the first speech she wrote for Mr. Reagan.
“It was for something very small like the teacher of the year,” she said. “But I was a brand-new speechwriter, and so I was keen to make an impression. I wrote a 20-page speech that was a defense of the West and a damnation of the Soviet Union.”
Upon receiving the speech, Mr. Reagan “knew it was utterly inappropriate,” Mrs. Noonan said.
But instead of sending the speech back “and saying, ‘This is a bunch of garbage,’ ” he neatly put a line through about 80 percent of what I wrote, then rewrote a few things, then wrote a note to me at the end that said: ‘What a wonderful speech this is. Unfortunately, it’s a little too long. I had to shorten it. I hope you don’t mind.’ ”
“I was so stupid, I believed him,” Mrs. Noonan recalled. “It took me months to figure out: ‘Oh, man, this is a courteous boss.’ ”
This article is based in part on wire service reports.