A towering bronze figure of President Ronald Reagan was unveiled Tuesday at the Washington-area airport named in his honor, the last of four statues built around the world in celebration of the late president’s 100th birthday.
The Republican president served two terms, from 1981 to 1989, and his beliefs in strong national security, low taxes and less government became cornerstones for modern conservative politics.
Reagan also championed national transportation safety and helped shift power of Northern Virginia’s two airports from federal to regional control, an effort cheered by the more than 100 transportation officials and well-wishers who attended the dedication at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital.
“It’s a privilege to be able to unveil a statue of Ronald Reagan,” said Elizabeth Dole, transportation secretary under Reagan. “He was a man who blessed this endeavor, sponsored the legislation and cheered on the effort many years ago.”
The 9-foot-tall statue captures the tailor-suited president in midstep as he welcomes travelers to the original airport terminal. The airport was renamed in his honor in 1998.
Behind the statue stands a low, 38-foot-long curved wall with Reagan’s name etched into the stainless-steel surface, along with the cutout image of a bald eagle.
“He was a great inspiration to my generation,” said Falls Church resident Michael Santorelli, a baby boomer who attended the dedication with commemorative buttons modeled after Reagan-era campaign ads. “He helped out a lot of industries.”
Despite the fanfare and praise from such dignitaries as former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, the history between Reagan and the aviation industry wasn’t without its bumps.
In 1981, Reagan fired thousands of union air-traffic controllers after they walked off the job and violated a federal no-strike rule.
Nearly 17 years later, Reagan drew renewed ire from critics who said it was inappropriate to rename the airport for the man responsible for thousands of lost jobs.
Mrs. Dole credited the former president’s push for low-level lighting on planes, smoke detectors in cabin bathrooms and less flammable seat cushions as proof of his interest in flight safety.
She also estimated 360,000 lives were saved, because of laws passed in the Reagan era mandating passenger safety belts and airbags and the drinking age being raised to 21.
The $900,000 statue is the last of four privately funded centennial statues endorsed by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
It was carved by North Carolina-based sculptor Chas Fagan, who also carved the Reagan statues at the U.S. Capitol, London’s Grosvenor Square and the statue at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.