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Nancy Reagan's Passing: End of an Era of Special Leadership

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 9/03/2016 Ken Adelman
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It's the end of an era, with Nancy Reagan's passing.
It was an era of decor and decency, of style and class. The dignity of the Reagans -- who were roundly criticized in the 80's for being too royal -- contrasts sharply with the disgusting trash talk and vile behavior of Donald Trump and those he contaminated on the presidential stage today.
It was an era of focused opposition and kindly demeanor. Ronald Reagan never spoke ill of a fellow Republican -- what he dubbed his "Eleventh Commandment" -- and could hardly muster any ill about a Democratic opponent. His comments on President Jimmy Carter were confined to his policies, never his height or veracity or patriotism.
It was an era of outstanding leadership. Nancy could fill in where Ronald Reagan needed help, as on personnel matters. She was a keen judge of people and could fire those who proved incompetent or unreliable -- a skill which somehow eluded him.
But not many leadership skills did elude him.
At President Reagan's "finest hour" -- the 1986 summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a supposedly-haunted house in Reykjavik, Iceland -- he displayed key traits of great leadership. In short -- as documented at length in my book Reagan at Reykjavik -- he
•set strategic goals on where he wanted to take superpower relations and nuclear weapons;
•figured out a pathway of how to get from here to there;
•trusted the leadership team around him;
•stayed the course during harsh opposition and grave setbacks; and
•managed to turn such setbacks into strategic breakthroughs.
On the summit's tenth anniversary, the Iceland government invited its participants back to Reykjavik.
Once there, I became overwhelmed with memories of Reagan's finest hour, displaying such raw leadership at such a critical time, that I sent a postcard from there to express such sentiment.
A week later, I was at the Reagan Presidential Library for another Reykjavik summit commemoration when I spotted Mrs. Nancy Reagan ambling down the hallway. She was as slight as ever, but alert and lively. As I approached her, I felt a palpable sense of sadness surrounding her -- the President then being deep into Alzheimer's, what Nancy called "the long goodbye" seeming interminable. There was a sense that she had lost the only thing that made life worth living for her.
As Mrs. Reagan approached the reception, I greeted her by saying that I had just returned from Reykjavik. Maureen had already told her about the conference, since she had attended to represent her father. Still, Mrs. Reagan asked for my impressions of the session.
Instead of answering, I began to tell her about the postcard. I described my early morning pilgrimage to supposedly-haunted Hofdi House -- where the superpower leaders met -- and how that had inspired me to write a note to her husband. Since I knew neither their home address nor that of the Library, I had simply addressed it to "President Ronald Reagan, Reagan Library, Simi Valley, California."
Mrs. Reagan became flustered, with a look asking: Don't you know that my husband has Alzheimer's? That he can't read anything?
Despite her frown, she managed to ask me what I had written. I couldn't remember exactly, I told her, but it was something like this:
President Reagan--
I am in Reykjavik on the 10th anniversary, thinking back on the superb job you did that weekend. Of how well you served America, and how very proud I was to serve you, Mr. President.
My very best to you, Ken Adelman
Nancy Reagan started tearing up, as did I. With people all around waiting to greet her, we seemed alone with memories we cherished--both of us about a man we considered so special and, for me, about a weekend unlike any other in my life, or in all of history.
Ken Adelman was a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Director of the Arms Control Agency under President Ronald Reagan, and author of "Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours that Ended the Cold War" (Harper-Collins).

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