Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Last night I was reading the newly-released book, The Reagan Diaries, edited by Douglas Brinkley; and it caused me to reflect once again about the man and the circumstances under which I metand interacted with him. Here is an excerpt from the diary entry from that day:
Friday, January 31 (1986)
At 8:45 on way to Andrews A.F.1 taking us to Houston for memorial service to Astronauts. Met with families at NASA Center--an emotional time. Then out to join some 14,000 people which included all the employees, family etc. of the entire space center....It was a hard time for all the families & all we could do was hug them & try to hold back our tears.

I've decided to re-post my recollection of that day, which was originally posted in January, 2006. Though it was a heart-wrenching time, I will forever feel extremely fortunate to have been a first-hand witness of the deep character and strength of this remarkable man. How lucky we all were as a nation to have had such a person be our President during those difficult and challenging years towrd the end of the last century!

Feel free to purchase the book by clicking on the image. I think it will be well worth your while.

RONALD REAGAN, A Personal Recollection

I vividly recall the day I met President Reagan almost exactly 20 years ago. It was one of the saddest days of my life. I was at the Johnson Space Center memorial service for the Challenger astronauts on the Friday after the Challenger accident. The President had come to JSC to honor the fallen crew and to heal the nation.

As the crew surgeon for that mission, I accompanied the families of the crew to a private meeting with President and Mrs. Reagan before he spoke to the large crowd of employees and officials. I felt a little out of place at this private meeting, so I tried to stay off to the side as, one by one, Reagan greeted all the immediate family members and talked with them.

Much to my surprise, after he visited with them for a while, he walked over to where I was standing. Apparently he had asked who I was, because he addressed me as "Doctor" and held out his hand, saying, "It must be especially hard for you today to have lost those who looked up to you as their doctor and who put their trust in you." He said it very quietly and his sincerity and genuine concern for what I was experiencing resulted in bringing tears to my eyes. Until that moment, I had managed to keep it all together and not show my feelings in public.

The next thing I knew, the President of the United States had put his hand on my shoulder and was comforting me; telling me that he understood my loss and that he knew I had been trying to be strong and take care of all the family members of the crew; but that he could see I was suffering too.

I had voted for Reagan in both the '79 and '84 elections (it was the first time I had voted Republican instead of Libertarian), but it wasn't until that moment that I truly understood the personal power of the man; his genuine warmth and the depth of his concern for someone he didn't even know. He instinctively seemed to understand that I had deliberately put aside my personal feelings about the tragedy because I had the awesome responsibility of taking care of all the crew family members (who were also my patients).

It crossed my mind even then, that he was telling me how much he identified with my situation and the responsibilities of my job. He had an entire nation to take care of, but it didn't mean he didn't personlly mourn for those who had died. It could be that I read too much into what he said, but I don't think so. He could have ignored me since I was standing off to the side from all the family members. But he went out of his way to find out who I was and then chose to come over to me.

I remember telling him in a choked voice how much his understanding meant to me and he looked at me with those clear, direct eyes of his and said, "You will be able to handle it. I know you will."

It seemed that I stared into those eyes for a long time (but it was probably only seconds) and then he turned away and signaled to the others that it was time to start the memorial service.

I actually got to stand on the platform while he spoke. This had been the spot prearranged for me to be so I would be able to observe the families in the front row and be ready to respond if they needed me. I couldn't have been more than ten feet or so away from the President during his eulogy and remarks.

I never spoke to President Reagan again, but at the end of the ceremony; after the missing man formation of T-38's had flown overhead, I accidently caught his eye, and he winked at me.

I will always remember his kindness and strength.

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