Ronald Wilson Reagan

Article excerpt


In the spring of 1926, the small town of Dixon, Ill., had to face facts. After several young men and women drowned in Rock River, the city fathers concluded that to avert further tragedy it should close Lowell Park, a 300-acre wooded nature preserve along the banks of the river. But 15-year-old Dutch Reagan thought otherwise. Having suddenly sprouted into a tall and strapping youngster who was, not incidentally, unbeatable in a swimming race, he believed that what the park needed was a dependable lifeguard. Himself, for example. He got the job - seven days a week (except when it rained) and, in the hottest weather, up to 12 hours a day - for $18 a week and all the nickel root beers and 10-cent hamburgers he wanted. No one drowned on this boy's watch. Over seven summers at Lowell Park, young Dutch Reagan pulled 77 swimmers to safety, each rescue, at his father's suggestion, duly notched into an old log.

Fifty-five years later, Ronald Wilson Reagan, the man that Dutch grew into, went on watch again, becoming the 40th President of the United States. While the stakes - life and death - were similar to Mr. Reagan's youthful mission at the river, the new stakes were on the grandest scale imaginable. Threatened by nuclear Armageddon in the deep freeze of the Cold War, struggling in the vortex of a plummeting economy, the American nation in 1981 was gripped by a palpable lack of purpose and confidence, teetering on the brink of decline. And then Ronald Reagan, who died yesterday at the age of 93 at his home in California, transformed the age.

Propelled by an indomitable optimism, inspired by a vision of a world free from ideological tyranny, nuclear arms and trade barriers, guided by belief in smaller government, lower taxes, a strong defense and a fierce and unflagging determination to defeat the Communist menace to free men, Mr. …