He is home now. He is free. In his final letter to the American people, Dad wrote, "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life." This evening, he has arrived.
History will record his worth as a leader. We here have long since measured his worth as a man. Honest, compassionate, graceful, brave. He was the most plainly decent man you could ever hope to meet.
He used to say, "A gentleman always does the kind thing." And he was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. A gentle man.
Big as he was, he never tried to make anyone feel small. Powerful as he became, he never took advantage of those who were weaker. Strength, he believed, was never more admirable than when it was applied with restraint. Shopkeeper, doorman, king or queen, it made no difference, Dad treated everyone with the same unfailing courtesy. Acknowledging the innate dignity in us all.
The idea that all people are created equal was more than mere words on a page, it was how he lived his life. And he lived a good, long life. The kind of life good men lead. But I guess I'm just telling you things you already know.
Here's something you may not know, a little Ronald Reagan trivia for you, his entire life, Dad had an inordinate fondness for earlobes. Even as a boy, back in Dixon, Ill., hanging out on a street corner with his friends, they knew that if they were standing next to Dutch, sooner or later, he was going to reach over and grab hold of their lobe, give it a workout there. Sitting on his lap watching TV as a kid, same story. He would have hold of my ear lobe. I'm surprised I have any lobes left after all of that.
And you didn't have to be a kid to enjoy that sort of treatment. Serving in the Screen Actors Guild with his great friend William Holden, the actor, best man at his wedding, Bill got used to it. They would be there at the meetings, and Dad would have hold of his earlobe. There they'd be, some tense labor negotiation, two big Hollywood movie stars, hand in earlobe.
He was, as you know, a famously optimistic man. Sometimes such optimism leads you to see the world as you wish it were as opposed to how it really is. At a certain point in his presidency, Dad decided he was going to revive the thumbs-up gesture. So he went all over the country, of course, giving everybody the thumbs up.
Doria [Ron Reagan's wife] and I found ourselves in the presidential limousine one day returning from some big event. My mother was there and Dad was, of course, thumbs-upping the crowd along the way, and suddenly, looming in the window on his side of the car, was this snarling face. This fellow was reviving an entirely different hand gesture. And hoisted an entirely different digit in our direction. Dad saw this and without missing a beat turned to us and said, "You see? I think it's catching on."
Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference.
Humble as he was, he never would have assumed a free pass to heaven. But in his heart of hearts, I suspect he felt he would be welcome there. And so he is home. He is free.
Those of us who knew him well will have no trouble imagining his paradise. Golden fields will spread beneath a blue dome of a western sky. Live oaks will shadow the rolling hillsides. And someplace, flowing from years long past, a river will wind toward the sea. Across those fields, he will ride a gray mare he calls Nancy D. They will sail over jumps he has built with his own hands. He will, at the river, carry him over the shining stones. He will rest in the shade of the trees.
Our cares are no longer his. We meet him now only in memory. But we will join him soon enough. All of us. When we are home. When we are free.