Love him or hate him, Ronald Reagan left a lasting mark on the “American brand.”
Grit Daily caught up with Michael Reagan, son of the 40th President of the United States of America, President Ronald Reagan. We got a glimpse into the life of the first family, the former President’s quirks and how the world views his legacy.
Grit Daily: You father is arguably one of the most galvanizing United States Presidents in recent history. What was it like being the son of one of the most powerful men on the planet?
Michael Reagan: Well, just like anything else, there is a good side and a downside to having a father that is the President. The upside is that you’re related to one of the most loved presidents in the history of our nation.
The downside is also that you’re related to one of the greatest presidents in the history of our nation. I think it is the downside also, because everyone looks for their own identity, who are they and what did they do. I bet there are a lot of people that are reading this article right now that didn’t know that I set five world records in powerboat racing, in the 1980s I was the number one fundraiser in the United States Olympics committee and so much more.
A lot of people don’t know my life, because my parent’s lives were so amazing. Now remember my mother was an academy award winning actress, she has two stars on the Hollywood walk of fame. So if you happen to be a member of an iconic family, finding your own way is not the easiest thing in the world.
So that is probably the downside, but the upside is that any place you go to in the world, you’re respected, you’re appreciated because people feel that the family sacrificed so much to be able to get a President like my father.
GD: Your dad ran for President twice before finally getting elected. What do you believe kept him going after failing to win the Presidency twice?
MR: I wrote a book about this: He never really gave up.
He was always looking forward, he always saw the glass as half full, not half empty. He didn’t let the roadblocks in his life stop him from moving forward and he knew who he was. He knew what he believed, why he believed it and he stayed that course.
He didn’t wake up one morning in the 1930s and say, hey I want to be President on the United States of America. If he hadn’t given a speech in November of 1964 for Goldwater, he probably never would have been governor and certainly never would have been President of the United States. In 1964, he changed from a Democrat to a Republican, gave a great speech called “the time for choosing” and the rest is history.
GD: What is one speech that your dad gave to you and your siblings growing up — not to the public, but to the family — that stuck with you forever?
MR: I learned from my father, riding out to the ranch on any given Saturday when I was a young boy about America. I learned about the Marine Corp, the Navy, the Airforce and Coast Guard.
I heard their songs over and over and over again because my father would sing them to us on the way to the ranch. That is how I learned about America, it was from my father. Those are the things that I really remember as I got older. I probably didn’t appreciate it back then and probably wished that my dad would have just shut up a drove the car. As I got older, I realized that is who he is.
He was a boy scout. My sister and I used to joke that if he didn’t win the presidency this time, we will just have to run him for President of the boy scouts or have him go get an eagle badge. That is just the person he was. He would be exactly the same with you that he was with us.
He was a storyteller, he spoke to us in parables. He was just so much fun to be around and I loved being around him. I would love on Saturdays going out to the ranch. We would shoot ground squirrels or ride horses or chop wood or go swimming, these were such great times for me as a child.
GD: Let’s talk for a minute about the Walkway to Victory, the US memorial, located in France. Why France?
MR: It is located in Sainte Mere Eglise, Normandy France. It was the first town freed my America at 4 AM in the morning on D-Day. If you’ve seen “Saving Private Ryan”, that is where the paratroopers are going, because that is where the bridges were.
They had to control those bridges to make sure the Germans didn’t get to the front and stop us from coming on shore from all the different beaches that day. That is really the 82nd and 101st airbornes Gettysburg, if you will. So we have a walkway to victory that we have put up through the Reagan Legacy Foundation.
You can visit Walkway to Victory and purchase a brick in the name of someone they know, a loved one or someone that served during the second world war. To honor someone that landed there in France and literally saved the world.
Or if you don’t know anyone, you can make a donation to the Reagan Legacy Foundation in the name of the brick foundation and we will go out and get the names for you, we have plenty of them. We are bricking in all of the walkways at the airborne museum in Normandy France, in memory of those who gave their lives or served in the second World War. These men are 90 plus years old, we are losing them to quickly and we should honor those who served in the second world war and especially those who served during D-Day.
GD: What is one thing that family members knew about your father, that the rest of the world, probably didn’t know?
MR: When you were riding in the car with him as one of his children, he used to always reach over and for some reason, he would tug on your ear. I don’t know why he would do this, but he was our father so we would just put up with it. A lot of people don’t know about his quirk with jelly beans.
He didn’t start eating jelly beans because he was a smoker, I mean he smoked a pipe, but he didn’t smoke cigarettes. He started eating jelly beans because the doctor told him to stop eating corn nuts. He loved corn nuts, he would eat them all the time and give them to his children to eat as well. Then the doctor told him, listen Mr. Reagan, you’re going to bust your teeth and bust your kids teeth.
You need to find something that is softer and chewier. So that’s when he went from corn nuts to jelly beans. I used to joke with my dad, I’d say, you’re not eating corn nuts because you’re worried about busting your teeth but now your eating jelly beans with all the sugar. So I guess not my teeth are just going to fall out. I used to really rip him on that. So that is where he got the jelly beans habit.
GD: I think we all miss your father, but it must be especially hard for you and your family. Does running the Reagan Legacy Foundation make you feel closer to your father? Like part of him lives on?
MR: Yes, it is my way of honoring my father and having people know what his legacy is. We have a scholarship program where we give out scholarships to the men and women that live aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan.
We also give scholarships to their family members that are at home, trying to better their education while their loved ones are serving. So the entire idea of the legacy foundation is to keep the legacy going. I love being able to go out and to speak about who Ronald Reagan really was and what he meant to not only people in the United States of America, but people all over the world.
I’ll be in Budapest this August and in the square there, they have a giant statue of my father. They honor him there because freedom came to that area of the world because of his presence and his relationship with Pope John Paul. So being able to go around the world and to see the world recognized my father and honors him and thanks him for what he was able to accomplish as President. It really is amazing.