Ronald Reagan

At the age of 93 – he was the nation’s longest-living ex-president – Ronald Wilson Reagan died today.

Ailing from Alzheimer’s disease, the nation’s 40th president’s health had been widely reported to be deteriorating over the past week.

One of the most beloved presidents in American history, Reagan passed away at his home in California. His body is expected to be taken to his presidential library and museum in Simi Valley, Calif., reports the Associated Press, before being flown to Washington to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. The body will then be returned to California for a sunset burial at his library, according to AP.

Reagan’s funeral will likely be held at Washington’s National Cathedral.

Earlier today, Nancy Reagan told reporters the end was near when she said, poignantly, “This is it.”

The former first lady, Reagan’s wife of 52 years, fiercely protected the privacy of her ailing husband. But she did communicate with the public about the ex-president’s condition, last month acknowledging that he had deteriorated dramatically. “Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him,” she said.

In November 1994, five years after the end of his second term as president, Reagan revealed very publicly that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, saying with typical wit and good humor that he had begun “the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.”

One of the most popular presidents of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan is widely credited with winning the Cold War, crusading to limit the size of the federal government, revitalizing the country’s stagnant economy, and inspiring hope again in the nation after the “malaise” of the Jimmy Carter era. Indeed, Reagan loved to say, “It’s morning again in America.”

An actor and two-term California governor, Reagan radiated warmth, confidence and deeply American values as president. While reducing government bureaucracy and regulation was a major focus – Reagan said early on that “Government is not the solution, it’s the problem” – he cut taxes to implement “supply-side economics,” sometimes known as “Reaganomics.” Perhaps even more important, he rebuilt the nation’s lagging defenses. This latter focus, coupled with the president’s steadfastness and personal strength with world leaders – led ultimately to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the downfall of communism, symbolized epically by the jubilant tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

So popular was Reagan by the end of his first term, he won 49 out of 50 states in the ’84 election against Walter Mondale.

In addition to defeating communism, Reagan dealt strongly with terrorism. In 1986 he sent in U.S. jets to bomb Libya in retaliation for the death of Americans in a Berlin terror attack.

‘Today we’re all Republicans’

In 1981, just months into his first term, Reagan fell victim to a would-be assassin’s bullet, when John Hinckley, Jr. shot the president outside a Washington, D.C., hotel. As he lay on the stretcher, he said to Nancy, with his trademark humor and grace under pressure: “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

To the surgeons about to operate on him, he said, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.” To which the lead surgeon responded, “Mr. President, today we’re all Republicans.”

The greatly loved president – who sported nicknames ranging from “The Great Communicator” to “The Gipper” to “Dutch (his Secret Service contingent codenamed him ”Rawhide”) – said in his farewell address: “It’s been the honor of my life to be your President.”

With Reagan’s passing, the only living ex-presidents are Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

When Reagan broke the news that he had Alzheimer’s in his famous “open letter” to the nation, he wrote:

“When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”

“I pray that as America reflects on the passing of my dad, they will remember a man of integrity, conviction and good humor that changed America and the world for the better,” Reagan’s son Michael, 58, said in a statement e-mailed to media.

The best is yet to come

President Bush, in France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, honored Reagan with these words in an after-midnight press conference:

    This is a sad hour in the life of America. A great American life has come to an end.

    I have just spoken to Nancy Reagan. On behalf of our whole nation, Laura and I offered her and the Reagan family our prayers and our condolences.

    Ronald Reagan won America’s respect with his greatness, and won its love with his goodness. He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom.

    He leaves behind a nation he restored and a world he helped save.

    During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of division and self-doubt. And because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny.

    Now, in laying our leader to rest, we say thank you.

    He always told us that for America, the best was yet to come. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for him, too. His work is done. And now a shining city awaits him.

    May God bless Ronald Reagan.

To learn more about President Ronald Reagan’s deep Christian faith and its role in his successful presidency, purchase “Hand of Providence: The Strong and Quiet Faith of Ronald Reagan,” by Mary Beth Brown, published by WND Books.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.