Sunday, June 6, 2004

RONALD REAGAN / 1911-2004
Mourning in America
After a brief speech at Hickam Air Force Base, President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, walked to Air Force One on April 27, 1984.

Former President Ronald
Reagan dies after a 10-year
struggle with Alzheimer's

Republican president
captured heart of Hawaii

Since statehood, only two Republicans have won the popular vote for president here and Ronald Reagan was one of them, beating Walter Mondale in 1984.

In "Knute Rockne: All-American" (1940), Reagan played George Gipp, the doomed football star who was Rockne's protege. Reagan shook hands with former Hawaii Sen. Spark Matsunaga. Ronald and Nancy Reagan took a dip in waters off a Kahala residence where they were staying.

Reagan visited Hawaii twice during his eight years in office. He also made two campaign appearances in the islands when he was the governor of California seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

"I felt very strongly that he was a leader," said former Gov. George Ariyoshi, who met with Reagan during both of the president's Hawaii stopovers. "The country was looking for somebody like him. ... I think the main thing about him was his leadership qualities -- the ability to make people feel inspired."

In 1986, when the Challenger exploded moments after takeoff, and Hawaii astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka was among seven crew members killed, Reagan helped the country mourn the loss in a speech that praised the astronauts as heroes who "slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."

Onizuka's sister, Big Island resident Shirley Matsuoka, recalled the televised speech yesterday and said Reagan "touched many lives" and supported the families of those lost with strength and compassion.

"He said that they'll never be forgotten, that they'll always be remembered," Matsuoka said. "It meant so much."

Reagan came to Hawaii in April 1984, and again two years later. He also visited Hawaii twice while running for president in April 1978 and September 1979.

Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, who disagreed with several of the Reagan administration's key policy initiatives, called the president an "idealist ... who all Americans hold close to our hearts."

"He never succumbed to negative and personal partisanship, for at the end of the day, we are all Americans," Akaka said in a statement. "Whether you agreed or disagreed with some of his administration's policies, you could not help but like the man and appreciate his plainspoken leadership."

During his 1984 two-day visit on his way to China, Reagan attended Easter Sunday services at St. Andrew's Cathedral with first lady Nancy, then went over to Washington Place to meet with Ariyoshi and teacher Roberta Serai's first-grade class from Aliamanu Elementary School, who presented him with Easter eggs.

Yesterday Serai remembered the visit.

"He just exuded himself as a president. You just had this feeling, this dignified person that was humble enough to hug every child," she said.

When she heard of Reagan's death, "I shed tears. I felt that I was a very small person in this whole American setup and I had the honor to meet somebody that great," Serai said. "I was so lucky to have been touched by his life."

Earlier in that day, some 600 people -- 400 of which were turned away -- waited more than two hours on the sidewalk at Queen Emma Street to share Easter service with the Reagans.

President Reagan, his wife Nancy and their daughter Maureen Reagan (left, who has since died) chatted with Jim Nabors after they exited St. Andrews for Easter Service on April 23, 1984.

Bishop Edmond L. Browning, who delivered the sermon at St. Andrew's, made national headlines when he criticized the Reagan administration's re-armament policy during the service.

"We see a great share of resources switched from the 'compassionate face' of government to the expenditure of arms," Browning said, "while in the language of 'acceptable megadeaths' and 'limited nuclear welfare.' "

Despite the rebuff, Reagan and his wife "took full part in the service" and were the first to take Holy Communion, Browning said in a telephone interview from his Oregon home.

"(Arms) lead to the things of destruction of creation," Browning said yesterday. "Of course we wanted to welcome him. ... But you want to hold up the hope that Easter holds."

President Ronald Reagan tossed a coconut as he and Nancy strolled along Kahala Beach during an April 1986 visit.

Reagan also took some time away from his business schedule to take a dip in the Kahala Hilton swimming pool.

In 1986, Reagan visited Hawaii for two days before heading to Tokyo for an economic summit. The trip included few public engagements.

While in the islands, Reagan phoned Ferdinand Marcos, who was living in a rented estate on the beach in Niu Valley, to reject the former dictator's claim to the Philippines presidency.

Reagan also paid a surprise visit to a 13-year-old leukemia patient at Kapiolani Women's and Children's Medical Center.

Before becoming president, Reagan addressed an economic conference at the Hawaiian Regent Hotel Ballroom in 1978, and took on the "less government" mantra that would become one of his presidential platforms.

"All of us should put our faith in this free-market system and use the vitality of the marketplace to save this way of life," he said, "or some day our children and grandchildren will ask us where we were and what we were doing on the day that freedom was lost."

Reagan's first visit to the islands was in 1959, when he was the star of the General Electric Theater's television show, according to Star-Bulletin archives.

He arrived at Pier 10 on an ocean liner, whose director called Reagan and his first wife, actress Jane Wyman, the "nicest celebrities we've ever had aboard."


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