Holding candles and offering prayers, grasping roses and uttering words of remembrance, several dozen people gathered near the White House yesterday evening to pay homage to Ronald Reagan.
Participants included teenagers in T-shirts, a clergyman who read from Psalms, an activist involved with naming monuments across the country in honor of Reagan, and a child who had just turned a year old.
The toddler was held in the arms of his mother, Kay Daly, a political activist and host of a conservative-oriented radio talk show who said her debt to the 40th president included the fact that her parents met at a Reagan gubernatorial campaign rally in California.
Near the end of the vigil, in Lafayette Square across the street from the White House, Daly explained that her son's very name attested to her regard for the former president, who died Saturday. The boy's name, she said, is Jack Reagan Daly.
One reason for remembering Reagan and his legacy, Daly said, was "so people won't think the Berlin Wall fell due to a masonry problem."
In a widely remembered speech, Reagan called for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall, which separated West Berlin from communist East Berlin. Excerpts from several Reagan speeches were aired on a portable CD player at the vigil.
Steve Evans of Northern Virginia found a picture of Reagan on the Internet, printed it in four sections and, after superimposing the text "Now, There Was a President," made the sections into a placard, which he carried at the vigil to honor "the greatest president of the 20th century."
Connie Hair of Arlington said the purpose of the vigil was "so we could tell stories, listen to speeches and go through the grieving process together."
Hair, who said she was press secretary for Alan Keyes's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, said she recognized other Keyes backers at the gathering.
Heather Wolfe of Alexandria, who stood a few feet from most of the others, holding a small American flag, said she appreciated Reagan for "his buildup of the military while I was serving" as an Air Force sergeant.
She called Reagan "one of the greatest presidents of the 20th century."
Others endorsed that view and spoke, in interviews and to the group, of their admiration for Reagan as an optimistic, spiritually oriented champion of freedom.
The Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister, said that the norms of his ministry called for pastors to be nonpartisan but that "it was Ronald Reagan who brought me across the line to become a Republican."
Among other things, he said, Reagan was "perhaps the most spiritual president we have had."
Grover Norquist, president of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which is dedicated to naming something of significance for Reagan in each of the 50 states, told the group that the former president helped complete the liberation of Europe.
Half of Europe was liberated by World War II, said Norquist, who also is president of Americans for Tax Reform. But he added that the other half remained enslaved until Reagan "finished the job" of freeing the countries of the Soviet empire.