Sunday, March 6, 2016

Remembering the Reagans

Like all of us who have lived in California for any length of time (my father's family have lived here for four generations), the passing of former first lady Nancy Reagan at the age of 94 this morning in Bel Air, California conjures up some fleeting and very slight first-hand glimpses I have experienced through the years of the Reagan family.  Here they are:

Political junkies may remember the name "Brownie" as the Director of FEMA under a controversial hurricane relief effort in Louisiana by President George W. Bush.  However, I will always remember "Brownie" as my first pastoral volunteer secretary when I served as an Interim Pastor in Red Bluff, California.  Brownie had previously served as the Rev. Donn Moomaw's personal secretary at Bel Air Presbyterian Church when the Reagan family attended there in the 1980's.  Brownie would regale me daily of stories about when one of the Reagan family would want to have an immediate and instant meeting with the Rev. Moomaw.  Brownie said; "the whole church office was put on high alert that the President would be breezing through at any moment."  Brownie said that the church would, for a few moments, drop everything to attend to the President and Nancy's pastoral needs.  She said, "The Reagans were proud of being Presbyterian, and it was important to them."

Ronald Reagan's Funeral
In June of 2004, when President Ronald Reagan died, my brother, Jamie Baird (who is also a pastor in San Marino, California), and I were staying in Sacramento where my parents live.  Sacramento is, of course, where the Capitol of California is located, the seat of power, and where the historic governor's mansion still is located.  Even though the Reagans never officially lived in the designated governor's mansion (actually, the rumor is that when Nancy first saw it she was mortified because of its moribund state and drafty corridors), my brother Jamie and I, who are both bagpipers, instinctively bee-lined it to the governor's mansion to play funeral dirges on the pipes for the fallen president.  Television cameras were, of course, on hand, and many media people.  Flowers were lain at the steps of the old mansion.  People were crying all around us.  The moment was covered in local newspapers, and shall remain with me for a long time.

"Can I Have Some Bread?"
One of my very good friends, Paul Batura, who is a Vice President of Focus on the Family, tells this remarkable story of a first hand account with President Reagan.  This story is heretofore un-published. In December 1997, President Reagan was in the full throws of the Alzheimer's disease and affliction that eventually took his life.  Paul wanted to meet Reagan personally, so, out of the blue, he sent him a letter (something more of us should remember to do every now and then).  Incredibly, Reagan agreed to meet with Paul.  The meeting was to take place at the Fox Studio Building in Century City, in Los Angeles, in Reagan's office on the 21st floor.  When Paul entered the room, an enfeebled and somewhat dilapidated former President met him at the door.  "Welcome," said Reagan.  After a few perfunctory comments and remarks, Reagan walked towards the window and looked pensively down at the park below.  Reagan then said, "Can I tell you a story, Paul?" Paul said, "Yes, of course".  "Every now and then, I like to go down to the park and to feed the birds."  It struck Paul as a bit odd that president Reagan, a former leader of the free world would be feeding birds.  "One day," Reagan continued, "I met a little boy in the park.  The little boy asked me what I did for a living. I said, I feed birds."  Not sure about the octogenarian's response, the little boy then asked Reagan, "What did you used to do?"  Reagan smiled for a moment and then said, "I used to be President of the United States".  The little boy looked quizzically at Reagan and then said, "Oh...can I have some bread?"

The Reagan Ranch
Through an acquaintance, I had the opportunity to visit the original Ronald Reagan Ranch just north of Santa Barbara, to the east of highway 101, way up at the top of the canyon.  When the shiny, white Chevy suburban that carried us arrived on the property, I was stunned by it's simplicity.  Off to the side was a small cabin with cowboy relics on the porch.  The cabin was tiny, by comparison to modern homes.  Beyond a grassy glenn was a lake, and a horse meandering aimlessly on the property.  For a brief moment I understood why Reagan, before becoming president, was not sure he ever wanted to leave this property.  "It's time to go now, Mr. Baird" said the security personnel.  And we were away...

And those are my fleeting connections to the Reagans on this evening of remembrance and loss for our country.  We thank God for all those who serve our country at the highest levels.  What are your memories?

All For Now,


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