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Reagan Veterans Bring Back the '80s
Ex-Officials Are Embraced by Washington

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2004

Edwin Meese III opened his spare bedroom to a fellow Californian, knotted an Adam Smith tie and went to the White House.

William P. Clark, his opinions once again in demand, stayed up late writing a newspaper opinion piece about the importance of stem cell research.

Peggy Noonan's prose poetry echoed around the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and Buffy Cafritz threw a dinner party for the Kitchen Cabinet.

The state funeral for former president Ronald Reagan brought a dusty blast of the '80s back to Washington -- insistently if fleetingly -- as alumni of the 40th presidency fell into their old roles one last time and toasted a movement that has outlived the man.

Former officials with where-are-they-now? names were embraced once again by official Washington and the news media as "Ambassador" and "Mr. Secretary." The once-powerful got to hoard cell-phone numbers that practically no one will want in two days, and indulged themselves in ignoring phone messages. After today's funeral service, the Ronald Reagan Alumni Association will stage "the last Cabinet meeting" at the Ronald Reagan Building, with an empty, black chair for the leader that ex-aides still affectionately refer to as "the old man."

Veterans of Reagan advance teams from two terms and two presidential campaigns, reunited after two decades of making money and having kids, walked their last motorcade routes and taped down their last toe marks for the funeral, part of "Operation Serenade."

"It is a presidential trip," said Rick Ahearn, lead advance man for Reagan's Washington arrival as president-elect and for his departure when he left office. "Just, unfortunately, instead of a limousine, it is a hearse."

One of Ahearn's last decisions for the boss was that Reagan's riding boots, fitted in the stirrups of the riderless horse accompanying the caisson for the procession to the Capitol, should be left scuffed but not dusty. He took a little saddle soap to them.

Once again, rosy scenarios were de rigueur. The Reaganauts produced many more leaks, shakeups and public feuds than have afflicted the current administration, but the infighting between the self-styled pragmatists and the outmaneuvered conservatives -- once the talk of Washington -- stayed on ice for the week.

"There were disagreements, but I can't remember any real fights," said Meese, who lost his West Wing job as counselor -- which made him part of the troika that ran the early Reagan White House -- when the moderates made their move and got him shifted to the post of attorney general.

The Reaganites have stayed tight enough that an annual alumni directory ran 482 pages this year. Determined to staff him to the end, his former aides paired off and divided themselves into two-hour shifts to join his Secret Service detail in keeping vigil over the remains lying in state overnight in the Capitol Rotunda.

There weren't many tears. As entertainer, old friend and pallbearer Merv Griffin put it after the toasts at Cafritz's dinner on Wednesday night, "The sadness was a few years ago."

The bar of the Mayflower Hotel, the staff hotel when Reagan was president-elect back in 1980, broke into a raucous post-midnight chorus of "Happy Birthday" for Joanne Drake, his chief of staff at his death. She remembered the time 17 years ago when Reagan sneaked up behind her on the terrace of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice and sang the same song to her.

At 69, Reagan was the oldest man elected president. At 93, he was the oldest former president. The hundreds of Reaganites who flocked in from around the country looked surprisingly spry, with almost all of the marquee names expected for this morning's funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.

Howard H. Baker Jr., once Reagan's chief of staff and now President Bush's ambassador to Japan, flew in from Tokyo.

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Lyn Nofziger and Alexander M. Haig Jr. will all be there. So will Larry Speakes, who once fielded zingers from the White House press corps and now promotes the Click-N-Ship and carrier-pick-up services as the Postal Service manager of product marketing.

William H. Webster, who between his stints as FBI chief and CIA director was one of the few officials to last all eight years, was caught up in the false-alarm emergency evacuation of the Capitol just before the arrival of Reagan's casket at sunset on Wednesday. "It was nice to see who can still run and who can't," he said.

Clark, a fellow rancher from California known as "Judge Clark" for his service on the state Supreme Court, was Reagan's national security adviser and then his interior secretary. He said the old guard has been "reminding each other of those times, which are getting away from us," and wondered aloud if "perhaps the joy of recalling the positive elements of the Reagan administration will maybe change the air back here a bit, at least for a while."

Kenneth M. Duberstein, Reagan's last chief of staff, took questions yesterday on the White House Web site.

There will be a few notable absences from this morning's eulogies. Donald T. Regan, one of Reagan's four chiefs of staff, died last June.

Oliver L. North plans to skip the service because he said he fears he would be a distraction. The retired Marine lieutenant colonel, a key player in the arms-for-hostages scandal that tainted Reagan's second term, has profited handsomely from his notoriety -- as a Christian novelist, radio commentator and now with "War Stories," a book series and weekly program on Fox News Channel.

"At that point, when I walk into the cathedral, all the cameras go to Ollie North, and that's not what this is about," North said.

James G. Watt, 66, who was an interior secretary for Reagan, is staying in Jackson Hole, Wyo., because of illness in his family. He, too, is unbowed, asserting that he "consumed a lot of newspaper columns that freed Reagan from getting the cheap shots."

About 30 people were in line at the Mayflower at 9 a.m. yesterday, when they could begin picking up their black-bordered cards for the 1,000 seats for Reagan friends and family members at this morning's service, from a room where the phones were answered, "Office of Ronald Reagan."

Among the first to arrive was Jerry Parr, 73, chief of the Secret Service detail protecting Reagan that afternoon in March 1981 when he was shot outside the Washington Hilton hotel. Some of his alumni stayed there this week. Parr was clutching a copy of this week's Time magazine, which shows Reagan and his entourage -- including a youthful Parr -- seconds before the shot was fired. "We did all we could for him that day," said Parr, now a lay minister at an ecumenical church in Adams Morgan.

Those not lucky enough to get seats in the cathedral can buy a $75 ticket to the alumni association event, where they can nosh and watch Fox News coverage in the Reagan Building amphitheater.

Anthony R. Dolan, who was Reagan's chief speechwriter and served on his senior staff all eight years, said he could not bear to watch the television coverage of Wednesday's procession. Dolan, now a special adviser to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, worked with Reagan on addresses that included such historic phrases as "ash heap of history" for communism in 1982 and "evil empire" for the Soviet Union in 1983.

"It reminds me of when he would speak to the nation," Dolan said. "I could never watch those, either."

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