Sunday, February 6, 2011

100 years ago today.... Tampico, Illinois, Ronald Reagan was born. Legend has it that his father passed out cigars and said "He looks like a little Dutchmen," and the nickname "Dutch" stuck with him for life.

Others far more eloquent than me have been writing about the Gipper and his legacy in recent weeks, so I don't have a lot to add. When he passed away, my hometown newspaper, the Princeton Union-Eagle, called and asked if I wanted to write something for their opinion page. Several years later, I think it holds up pretty well, so I'll just reprint it below. God bless you, Gipper.

Princeton Union-Eagle, June 10, 2004
A brush with Ronald Reagan, his influence
By Tim Droogsma

Editor's note: Droogsma, a 1974 graduate of Princeton High School, spent about 31/2 years as press secretary for U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, spanning the final 20 months of the Reagan administration and the first two years of the Bush administration. Then he was press secretary for Gov. Arne Carlson in Minnesota for a year and is now a communications manager for a division of General Electric.

Ever since my first byline appeared in the Princeton Eagle, I wanted to be a sportswriter, but just as former President Ronald Reagan changed so many people's lives, he changed mine as well.

In January 1986, on the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded, Reagan spoke from the Oval Office. He comforted the nation, he mourned our collective loss and toward the end, he addressed the children of America and told them, "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; It belongs to the brave."

And in that moment, I understood the incredible power of a well-crafted speech to teach, to inspire and to lead. I also knew that I wanted to do something more than write sports, that I wanted to use whatever small bit of talent I might have to help move the world in the direction Ronald Reagan wanted it to move.

Less than two years later I had left the newspaper business and became press secretary to Sen. Rudy Boschwitz. I moved to Washington and was there for the final 20 months of the Reagan presidency. I met Reagan only twice, both times very briefly, although the second time was the most memorable: An elevator ride in the United Nations building with Reagan, Rudy, a few Secret Service agents and me. Quite a thrill for a boy from Princeton!

Above all, I will remember the great speeches because they communicated great ideas. I more fully appreciated D-Day after hearing him speak of the "Boys of Pointe Du Hoc." When he stood at Brandenburg Gate and challenged Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," it was easy to understand that the world was changing, and that liberty and freedom were on the march.

Just 18 months after that speech, I was at Brandenburg Gate myself, chipping off my own piece of the wall and looking into the eyes of East Germans who now lived in freedom. More than anyone else, Reagan deserved the credit for that transformation.

In his Oval Office farewell, he talked again about America as the "Shining city on a hill," and it remains the best description of the hopes and aspirations we have for this great nation.

On June 5, Ronald Reagan finally reached the Shining City, leaving behind millions of us whom he taught, inspired and led to believe that, "For America, there will always be a bright dawn ahead."

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