Ronald Reagan Dies
Dogged by worries about his age during his reelection campaign, he promised during a presidential debate: "I am not going to exploit for political gain my opponent's youth and inexperience."
Comforting a nation stunned by the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, he said: "Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue."
Crystallizing the final stage of the Cold War confrontation between Western liberties and Soviet repression, he visited the Berlin Wall in 1987 and challenged Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to tear it down. In a perfect summary of his core faith, Reagan declared, "After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor."
Reagan's legacy can be seen in the current White House, where his example is revered; in Congress, where Reagan Republicans captured control of the House in 1994 and have held it ever since; and on the Supreme Court, where Reagan appointees hold the balance of power on most issues. (He filled four vacancies, elevating William H. Rehnquist to chief justice and adding Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy and Antonin Scalia.)
He left the public eye in 1994, soon after attending the funeral of Richard M. Nixon, the last president to die.
Reagan's farewell note to his fellow citizens was his final masterpiece. "I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience," he wrote in the same small, neat hand he used for thousands of personal letters. "When the time comes I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage."
In a recent speech promoting stem cell research, Nancy Reagan said her husband had been for several years "in a distant place where I can no longer reach him." Death in Alzheimer's disease usually results from the accumulated effects of immobility, disordered swallowing and malnutrition. Pneumonia is often the immediate cause of death. The stress of illness can also worsen underlying cardiovascular disease, triggering heart attacks or strokes. Alzheimer's is now the eighth-leading cause of death in the United States, and its rate is rising.
"In closing let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President," Reagan wrote 10 years ago. "When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future."
Staff writer David Brown contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company