As we celebrate President Ronald Reagan’s birthday on Feb. 6, I reflect on his impact from my personal experiences and his example of leadership for all of us.
He was elected president at an age when most people slowed down and enjoyed retirement. Reagan demonstrated that it is never too late to positively impact others.
On March 30, 1981, I was in Caracas, Venezuela, on a company rewards trip. When we returned to the cruise ship that afternoon, I vividly remember listening to the BBC report on the assassination attempt on our president. Little did we know how close he came to losing his life that day.
I couldn’t imagine then that I would have the privilege to see him speak in San Antonio in his first public speech after the attempted assassination to the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce national convention. My friends and I were relegated to the cheap seats in the Hemisfair arena. Reagan’s voice was weak that day, but we strained to hear his every word.
I’ll never forget the goosebumps I experienced when he closed with the inspiration for our civic group to give more to our fellow citizens.
“If not you who, if not now when?” he inquired. You could feel the energy from the thousands of people in the hall who were ready to storm out and give of themselves because our beloved president asked us to do so.
Reagan’s positive attitude was contagious and lifted the United States out of the malaise of the 1970s.
Below is an excerpt from “The Four-Letter Word that Builds Character” that I wrote in 2006 celebrating his positive outlook on life.
“Ronald Reagan was an unlikely person to be elected President of the United States. A radio broadcaster and actor, he was first elected as Governor of California in his fifties.
“As an elected official, Reagan had those who agreed and disagreed with his political views. But, he was beloved by the people because of his positive attitude and approach toward life. He related to every man, and almost every man related to him. ‘His real heroes were common folk who performed uncommon feats of self-denial and courage.’”
As president, Reagan had a vision of where he wanted to lead the country, the principles to stay focused on the course to achieve his objectives, and the positive outlook to persevere in spite of opposition and reversals. He brought dignity to the presidency and the country after a tumultuous period.
One of his greatest legacies was instituting policies that eventually ended the Cold War. Reagan pursued bold initiatives with conviction while some doubted his competence.
His willingness to walk away from negotiations with the Soviets at their summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986 demonstrated his style of negotiating from confidence and strength rather than fear. The resulting paradigm shift when combined with other strategies, culminated with the Berlin Wall falling in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Cold War was won without firing a shot, and Reagan made a significant contribution to the victory.
Known as the “great communicator,” Reagan was unparalleled at his use of humor. His jokes entertained people and helped them to better understand his message. He often poked fun at himself, which helped people to relate to him.
Reagan was self-assured, and, more importantly, he was confident in the ability of others. His optimism inspired people to be more than they were, and his example demonstrated the possibility to achieve one’s dreams. The resulting pride in America and being American resulted in a period of peace and prosperity. President Reagan’s positive attitude and leadership were as important as any policy in the positive impact produced by his presidency.
• Richard V. Battle is a business consultant, speaker and the author of six books, including his latest, “Conquering Life’s Course.” Visit him online at www.richardbattle.com.