My dinner with Reagan

Prepping for a speech to a full ballroom, he acknowledged his nervousness.

By

It was the early 1950s. We were living in a delightful village outside Cincinnati. My husband, Gene, had joined the General Electric Company, and in this particular facility, they were making engines for the planes belonging to the US Air Force.

Gene had been made manager of his department. This included some nice perks for us, and one of the more exciting ones was to go to the annual Air Force Association Meeting. That year it was to be held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, and the wives of all those invited were included.

Ronald Reagan at this time was working for GE. He was doing a television series called "GE Theater," an entirely successful program largely because Reagan was the host. Even then, he was a popular man. How could anyone not like Ronald Reagan? He also was continuing with his film career. He was in his second marriage, to Nancy, having first been married to Jane Wyman.

Recommended: In Pictures Ronald Reagan through the years

The good part of all this was that he would be at the meeting representing General Electric. I hoped that I would get to meet him, maybe in GE's hospitality room or at the ball planned for the last night. It was all very exciting. GE was to have its own table at the ball, and I found, happily, that Gene and I were to be at that table.

I had a new pale blue satin dress for the party, and I felt preened. Probably more than a thousand people were there talking and laughing – joy reigned and I felt the magic.

But there was more to come. We found our table, beautifully located, and, of course, we had Reagan. We circled the table looking for our place cards. I found mine. I looked to the right hoping for a name I might know. No, I didn't. So, then I looked to the left. The place card said "Ronald Reagan."

Moments later, Reagan arrived, and, turning to me, still standing, he put out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Ronald Reagan."

This was the start of one of the most memorable nights of my life.

He was utterly charming, utterly kind, the easiest person I have ever talked to.

About halfway through the evening, Reagan was to go up on the stage and give a short speech.

"Nothing much," he said to me, "just a few welcoming words."

Then he confided, "But to tell you the truth, I'm nervous. I'm a screen actor. I'm not used to being in front of this many people to give a speech."

Because he had made me feel so comfortable, I drew with complete freedom on my past experience as a speech teacher and said, "Oh, Mr. Reagan, just pretend that you are only talking to one person, and let the audience multiply itself."

He laughed a little, and said to me, "I like that."

Who would have ever thought I was giving advice to a future president of the United States?

Shortly he was called up on the stage and introduced. Then he shared his easy charm with the whole ballroom. When he stopped, the ballroom erupted with appreciation for this very special man.

The next day, Gene and I were in the lobby of the hotel. Gene responded to someone calling his name. It was a GE friend, the man who traveled with Reagan when he was representing the company. I was surprised when he turned to me and said, "I have something for you from Ronald Reagan."

He handed me a box of Blum's chocolates.

"Ronnie sent a message to you," he said. "He said to tell her, 'She looks like Jane, but she acts like Nancy.' "

There is no more to this story. It was just a brief look into the character of a truly remarkable man.

I only wish I had saved the box the chocolates came in.

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