The Funeral

Reagan Hailed as Leader for 'the Ages'

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By David Von Drehle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 12, 2004

A poor kid in the America that Ronald Reagan extolled could end up a movie star, a millionaire, president of the United States -- or, in his case, all three. That storybook life turned its last page yesterday with a funeral fit for a king.

Beneath the towering vaults of Washington National Cathedral, about 3,700 mourners -- leaders of government, heads of state, captains of industry, brokers of power -- sat rapt as the 40th president, who died last Saturday at 93, was commemorated by his admirers and commended to his God.

The pomp was nearly unprecedented in American annals, more than two extraordinary hours of thundering organ, swelling chorus, haunting silences and eloquent prayers. Eulogies were spoken by two presidents and two prime ministers.

"Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now," said President Bush, echoing words once spoken upon the death of Abraham Lincoln, "but we preferred it when he belonged to us."

After the funeral, the late president's body rode one last time to Andrews Air Force Base and one last time home to California aboard a presidential jet. He was buried near sunset on the grounds of the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, in a simple service featuring tributes from his three surviving children. Former first lady Nancy Reagan, stoic through nearly a week of somber rituals, surrendered to her grief after being handed the flag that had covered her husband's coffin.

So ended the nation's farewell to a man judged by fans and critics alike to have ranked among the most consequential presidents of the past century, a man credited by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher yesterday with having "won the Cold War."

Washington's first state funeral in more than 30 years -- the first held in the cathedral since 1969 -- came off without incident and caused less disruption than some had feared. Security at the invitation-only ceremony was tight but not oppressive, and D.C. police reported few traffic jams despite the comings and goings of scores of motorcades. Crowds along the route from the Capitol, where more than 100,000 people visited Reagan's coffin as it lay in state, were easily managed.

Under gray, sprinkling clouds, a time capsule opened, and out stepped the men and women who strove and clashed, rose and fell, won and lost in an age that seems long ago and far away. Former president Gerald R. Ford, who beat back Reagan's bid for the 1976 Republican nomination, chatted with former president Jimmy Carter, who lost to Reagan four years later.

The small, aged frame of former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger belied a handshake still tight as a vise grip. Former secretary of state Alexander Haig still likes his suits cut snug and styled a bit flashy.

In from the cold came such sinning Reaganauts as budget director David Stockman, who spilled the beans on the Reagan administration's failure to pay for its tax cuts, and national security adviser Robert McFarlane, who executed the arms-for-hostages exchange that became known as Iran-contra. Welcomed inside was former representative Kent Hance of Texas, a card-carrying Reagan Democrat who once whipped a young challenger named George W. Bush.

Bygones were bygone.

At least they were inside the cathedral, where United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who opposed the Iraq war, chatted animatedly before the service with the pro-war British prime minister, Tony Blair. Outside, there were a few protesters scattered among the curious and the reverent along Wisconsin Avenue NW. The District's Anti-War Network, for example, held signs cataloguing Reagan's "victims": the poor, El Salvador, people with AIDS and so on.


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