Go back with me for just a minute...
Between August and December 1991, the fifteen individual republics of the Soviet Union seceded from the Union. On December 25th, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as the eighth and final leader of the Soviet Union and declared his office extinct. He turned over his powers to Russian president Boris Yeltsin, formally ending not only the Soviet Union, but also the Cold War.
A few thousand miles away, in Fort Worth, Texas, Nancy was majoring in international politics at TCU. As it happened, her political science course in the fall semester of 1991 was Soviet politics. It was hard to tell who was more excited for class several times a week, the students or the engaging, brilliant professor, Dr. Ralph Carter, as the class had to throw the text book aside and discuss the current events in the constantly breaking news cycles. Dr. Carter filled in the backstory and tied them to the headlines. Things were changing week by week, and the excitement about living out history while getting to study it step by step was an opportunity not taken for granted by those in that classroom. The air felt alive. Some days were breathtaking. In that pre-internet world it was not often you got to witness something that you knew, even in real time, was changing the world. But that was one of those times.
While many factors, people, and events led to those historic months, there is no denying the influence of President Ronald Reagan and his personal diplomacy with Gorbachev, even while boldly standing in front of the Berlin Wall a few short years before and famously demanding, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" These two men and what they did to change the world are forever linked not only in the history books, but also in my memories. (Actually, I have three men linked for that time because I owe so much of how I love my major to Dr. Carter's handling of those days.)
So, as our Grand Adventure today took us to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and we saw several wonderful exhibits, perhaps you'll understand if I have a favorite.
"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization... Come here. To this gate.
Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
And down it came.
Of course there are many other interesting and historical items to see at the Library.
Leadership that called out our better selves.
Petunia particularly enjoyed a few moments.
One of them was speaking to her constituents (and seeing how a teleprompter works.)
Another favorite was getting to "ride" with the President, as she shares his love of horses.
Here is the reproduction of what Reagan's Oval Office looked like, particulary in his second term as it was updated some. When Petunia saw it, she said, "I thought the Oval Office was blue and gold!" because that is how she had seen it at President George W. Bush's Library. She thought it was cool to learn they all got to decorate it how they wanted.
For a large percentage of the population, isn't Reagan's handling of the Challenger tragedy etched in our minds? How he said just the right words and comforted a mourning nation endeared him further to many.
One of the most amazing highlights of the Library is the chance to board and walk through Air Force One! This is the plane that served seven presidents as Air Force One from Nixon to 'W'.
Not only Air Force One, but also Marine One. We could walk through that one, too, but it didn't take as long.
The state of the art, custom-designed limo for the President. Times have changed, however, and it doesn't look nearly as impressive as today's cooler cars. Petunia even said, "That's a limo?" Ha!!
All the historical exhibits, the films, the pictures...the whole Library was a nostalgic remembering of a true statesman.
"And whatever else history says about me when I'm gone, I hope that it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts."
Mark and Nancy joined thousands and thousands of others in Washington, DC in 2004 to pay our respects when the riderless horse and the rest of Reagan's funeral procession made it's way across the city. A visit to the Library twelve years later came close to recapturing those feelings of gratitude and admiration.
As you step outside toward the memorial that now honors the life of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, it strikes you that this is a most fitting place, indeed.
We were blessed to have you lead us, Mr. President.