My bookshelf contains about six dozen volumes solely focused on President Ronald Reagan. But if I pulled together all the information they provide about his post-presidency years, it wouldn’t add up to much. Further, what has been written feels less intimate. Whereas nearly every move of a president is recorded for historians to examine, the retired couple could regain some bit of privacy lost to them by public service. So, information about these years would best come from someone who had immediate access to Reagan for a lengthy period of these years.
Enter Peggy Grande’s new memoir released this week by Hachette: The President Will See You Now. Grande was fresh out of Pepperdine University when the Reagans returned to Southern California for the first taste of retirement — if that’s what you call the busy life they led during the years leading up to his disablement from Alzheimer’s. Ms. Grande began as an intern and wound up working for ten years, from 1989 to 1999 — just after Reagan ceased coming into the office each day.
What did Ronald and Nancy do during those years? I must admit that before reading Ms. Grande’s finely crafted memoir of her service, I would have been at a loss to answer that question. Sure, he gave speeches, handled important correspondence, and oversaw the building of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. But I assumed he was on the golf course or a fishing boat the rest of the time. After all, he entered the White House at a time when most people retire, so he had earned some years of leisure.
Ms. Grande pulls back the curtains on those mystery years like only someone who served daily with him could have managed to do. We also gain a small view of the pain and sorrow of the final years of Reagan, deprived of his mental faculties, but still carried along with dignity and respect by his family and staff. Ms. Grande loved and deeply admired Reagan from her youth, and that comes through in the text. If you don’t care for Reagan, you probably won’t enjoy this aroma — but then, you probably aren’t reading five paragraphs into a review about a Reagan book!
Ms. Grande has written a beautiful book. The writing itself is Reaganesque in its style, turn of phrase, and eye for humanity. And Ms. Grande avoided the trap of turning the volume into a collection of principles. This is a story — much of it Ms. Grande’s biography. Sometimes the story plods along with so much detail that you’re left wondering how she could remember so much information. But then, her job with the president was to nail down the tiniest of details, thinking ahead of every contingency for trips and events. In other words, God gifted Ms. Grande in this way, and her writing reflects her personality.
Iron sharpens iron. Reading about Reagan prompts introspection about how one is ordering their life and making the world a better place to live. By reading such books, we can make course corrections in our character. As Margaret Thatcher said in her eulogy for Reagan in 2004: “We here still move in twilight, but we have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had. We have his example.”
Or, as Ms. Grande wrote in the concluding words of the final chapter:
“We want to be proud of ourselves and proud of our country and now have to make that happen without him. Yet we have all the tools to make that happen. In giving to us first, Ronald Reagan gave us everything we would need to give back to each other, to our country, and to the world.”
I highly recommend.