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A Faithful Correspondent:  Letters from the Gipper
by Aaron Goldstein
09 February 2004A Life in Letters

Many of Ronald Reagan's letters are as enjoyable the hundredth time as the first.

Ronald Reagan has not been seen in public in nearly a decade.   Despite his withdrawal from public life due to Alzheimer’s disease, the public’s affection and fascination with him has continued unabated.

Of course, late in 2003 the CBS mini-series The Reagans was cancelled (and later sold to Showtime) due to public outrage over what was seen as cruel treatment of a man coming to the end of his life.  Nonetheless, in the past year, Reagan has been the subject of no fewer than four books.   Peter Robinson, a speechwriter in the Reagan White House, released a book titled How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life.  Reagan’s official biographer Lou Cannon released Governor Reagan, a biographical account of Reagan’s two terms as Governor of California.  Most recently published is a book documenting Reagan’s religious faith titled God and Ronald Reagan by Paul Kengor, a political science professor at Grove City College.

But perhaps the most interesting of the four books are the words of Reagan himself.  These words take the form of correspondence from Reagan over a period of seven decades that have been documented in a book titled Reagan: A Life in Letters (Published by Free Press).  These letters commence during Reagan’s childhood and continue in his life as a Hollywood actor, as Governor of the largest State in the Union, as Commander in Chief, and finally as private citizen.

In this age of the Internet, old-fashioned personal correspondence seems something quaint; a relic of the past.  It is obvious that men and women of Reagan’s generation were taught the importance of the English language.  They were taught the importance of the written word and its proper use.  It just so happens that Reagan did not abandon this skill even as he was declaring the Soviet Union to be an evil empire.  Even as President, Reagan corresponded with world leaders and young schoolchildren alike.  He would often apologize for responding late to an individual correspondent whether he or she be an intimate of decades or a complete stranger.

Some of Reagan’s letters in the White House give correspondents an insight into his life before Hollywood and politics.  Before becoming an actor, Reagan was a radio sportscaster near Des Moines, Iowa.  One of his responsibilities was to give accounts of Chicago Cubs baseball games via telegraph.  During one game between the Cubs and their arch rivals the St. Louis Cardinals that was tied 0-0 in the 9th inning, the telegraph went dead:

There were several other stations broadcasting that game and I knew I’d lose my audience if I told them we’d lost our telegraph connections so I took a chance.  I had (Billy) Jurges hit another foul.  Then I had him foul one that only missed being a homerun by a foot. I had him foul one back in the stands and took up some time describing the two lads that got in a fight over the ball.

I kept on having him foul balls until I was setting a record for a ballplayer hitting successive foul balls and I was getting more than a little scared.   Just then my operator started typing.   When he passed me the paper I started to giggle – it said: “Jurges popped out on the first ball pitched.”

At nearly 900 pages, one of the best things about this book is that it does not have to be read in a linear manner to be enjoyed, nor does it need be read in one sitting.  Many of these letters are as enjoyable the hundredth time as the first.  Happy Birthday, Gipper.

A Life in Letters is available on Amazon.com.

Aaron Goldstein, a former member of the socialist New Democratic Party, writes poetry and has a chapbook titled Oysters and the Newborn Child: Melancholy and Dead Musicians. His poetry can be viewed on www.poetsforthewar.org.

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