Flags are at half-staff all over the country today as the nation mourns a former president.

Ronald Wilson Reagan, who lived in the White House from 1981 to 1989, died yesterday at his home in California. He was 93 and had been in poor health. Ten years ago he announced he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, an incurable brain affliction.

Reagan, the country's 40th president, was a beloved figure to many people, including some who disagreed with his politics.

He was fiercely anti-communist, and it was during his term that the Soviet Union began to collapse. On the home front, he built up the military, and cut taxes and spending sharply. But by the time he left office the government was bigger and the national debt had tripled.

Although Reagan was the oldest man ever elected president (he was 69 at the time), many credit him with putting new vigor into the Republican Party. His charm was legendary and he was such a good speechmaker that his aides dubbed him "The Great Communicator." His announced fondness for jelly beans had Americans shipping them to the White House by the bushel.

In the 1980s, Reagan, a father of four, kept up a nearly five-year pen pal relationship with a District schoolchild. Rudy Lee Hines was 6 when he met the president after Reagan visited his school, Congress Heights Elementary (later renamed for Martin Luther King Jr.).

In their letters back and forth, Rudy often sought the president's advice (at one point, he wanted to take karate but wasn't sure how to ask his parents), and the president shared his impressions of foreign countries he had visited. The president and his wife, Nancy, even visited Rudy's house, sitting down to a home-cooked dinner of fried chicken, served on TV trays. The Reagans gave Rudy -- what else? -- a jar of jelly beans. They also had his schoolmates to the White House and gave them tickets to the circus and a Michael Jackson concert.

Reagan was born in Illinois in 1911. As a youth, he worked as a lifeguard, and at Eureka College he was student body president and captain of the swimming team. Later he moved to Hollywood, where he starred in more than 50 movies, including one with a chimpanzee named Bonzo.

Before becoming president, Reagan was twice elected governor of California.

-- Marylou Tousignant

In the 1980s President Reagan and wife Nancy gave Reagan's pen pal, Rudy Lee Hines, a jar of jelly beans.