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Reagan's death brings praise from world leaders, ordinary folk

Monday, June 7, 2004

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Ronald Reagan was remembered with jelly beans, flowers and American flags on Sunday at memorials in his hometown and outside the mortuary where the former president's body lay.

"Thank you for changing the world," said a handwritten note among the tokens of remembrance left in Santa Monica for the nation's 40th president, who was 93 when he died Saturday of pneumonia, as a complication of Alzheimer's.

The family's spokeswoman said Nancy Reagan was thankful for thousands of expressions of sympathy over the death of her husband, and despite her sadness was relieved he was no longer suffering.

"I can tell you most certainly that while it is an extremely sad time for Mrs. Reagan, there is definitely a sense of relief that he is no longer suffering, and that he has gone to a better place," Joanne Drake told a news conference outside the mortuary where Reagan's body lay.

"It's been a really hard 10 years for her," Drake said of Nancy Reagan, as nearly a week of tribute to the former president was detailed.

In a piece written for Time magazine before Reagan's death, Nancy Reagan remembered her husband as "a man of strong principles and integrity" who felt his greatest accomplishment was finding a safe end to the Cold War.

"I think they broke the mold when they made Ronnie," she wrote in the article appearing today. "He had absolutely no ego, and he was very comfortable in his own skin; therefore, he didn't feel he ever had to prove anything to anyone."

Former President Jimmy Carter said Sunday that the death of Reagan, who defeated him in the 1980 presidential election, was "a sad day for our country."

"I probably know as well as anybody what a formidable communicator and campaigner that President Reagan was. It was because of him that I was retired from my last job," Carter said before teaching Sunday school in his hometown of Plains, Ga.

Carter added: "He presented some very concise, very clear messages that appealed to the American people. I think throughout his term in office he was very worthy of the moniker that was put on him as the 'Great Communicator.'"

At Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon, Ill., mourners left flowers, flags and packets of Jelly Belly jelly beans -- his favorite -- at the feet of a life-sized statue of Reagan in the front yard.

Ken Dunwoody, 82, who grew up outside Dixon, said the Republican icon transcends partisan politics.

"I just think of him as being an American," Dunwoody said. "I wish we all could get back to that."

At Bel Air Presbyterian Church, which Reagan attended during and after his presidency, worshipper Rose McNally recalled how members of the congregation would react to his arrival.

"As soon as he'd start up the ramp, people would pick up a piece of paper, any piece of paper, to get him to sign," she said. "He was a great man."

The Rev. Mark Brewer opened Sunday's first service with a remembrance, saying, "As a nation, we grieve this week."

"He brought with him not only a love for the nation but also a sense of humor," Brewer told about 500 people. He lauded Reagan's leadership in the Cold War, calling it the "third great war" of the century.

Reagan's "Star Wars" program drew the Soviet Union into an unaffordable arms race, and his 1987 declaration to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the Berlin Wall -- "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" -- was the ultimate challenge of the Cold War.

Gorbachev on Sunday looked back on those tensions with equanimity and forgiveness.

"I take the death of Ronald Reagan very hard," Gorbachev told reporters. "He was a man whom fate set by me in perhaps the most difficult years at the end of the 20th century."

"It was his goal and his dream to end his term and enter history as a peacemaker," he said.

Reagan died at 1 p.m. Saturday and his body was taken to a Santa Monica funeral home. A shrine that sprouted outside grew to include a cowboy hat, personal letters, flags, candles and jelly beans.


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