Eulogy to the Great Liberator
National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., June 11, 2004
We have lost a great president, a great American, and a great man. And I have
lost a dear friend.
In his lifetime Ronald Reagan was such a cheerful and invigorating presence that
it was easy to forget what daunting historic tasks he set himself. He sought to
mend America's wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to
free the slaves of communism. These were causes hard to accomplish and heavy
Yet they were pursued with almost a lightness of spirit. For Ronald Reagan also
embodied another great cause - what Arnold Bennett once called `the great cause
of cheering us all up'. His politics had a freshness and optimism that won
converts from every class and every nation - and ultimately from the very heart
of the evil empire.
Yet his humour often had a purpose beyond humour. In the terrible hours after
the attempt on his life, his easy jokes gave reassurance to an anxious world.
They were evidence that in the aftermath of terror and in the midst of hysteria,
one great heart at least remained sane and jocular. They were truly grace under
And perhaps they signified grace of a deeper kind. Ronnie himself certainly
believed that he had been given back his life for a purpose. As he told a priest
after his recovery `Whatever time I've got left now belongs to the Big Fella
And surely it is hard to deny that Ronald Reagan's life was providential, when
we look at what he achieved in the eight years that followed.
Others prophesied the decline of the West; he inspired America and its allies
with renewed faith in their mission of freedom.
Others saw only limits to growth; he transformed a stagnant economy into an
engine of opportunity.
Others hoped, at best, for an uneasy cohabitation with the Soviet Union; he won
the Cold War - not only without firing a shot, but also by inviting enemies out
of their fortress and turning them into friends.
I cannot imagine how any diplomat, or any dramatist, could improve on his words
to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Geneva summit: `Let me tell you why it is we
distrust you.' Those words are candid and tough and they cannot have been easy
to hear. But they are also a clear invitation to a new beginning and a new
relationship that would be rooted in trust.
We live today in the world that Ronald Reagan began to reshape with those words.
It is a very different world with different challenges and new dangers. All in
all, however, it is one of greater freedom and prosperity, one more hopeful than
the world he inherited on becoming president.
As Prime Minister, I worked closely with Ronald Reagan for eight of the most
important years of all our lives. We talked regularly both before and after his
presidency. And I have had time and cause to reflect on what made him a great
Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles - and, I believe, right
ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively.
When the world threw problems at the White House, he was not baffled, or
disorientated, or overwhelmed. He knew almost instinctively what to do.
When his aides were preparing option papers for his decision, they were able to
cut out entire rafts of proposals that they knew `the Old Man' would never wear.
When his allies came under Soviet or domestic pressure, they could look
confidently to Washington for firm leadership.
And when his enemies tested American resolve, they soon discovered that his
resolve was firm and unyielding. Yet his ideas, though clear, were never
simplistic. He saw the many sides of truth.
Yes, he warned that the Soviet Union had an insatiable drive for military power
and territorial expansion; but he also sensed it was being eaten away by
systemic failures impossible to reform.
Yes, he did not shrink from denouncing Moscow's `evil empire'. But he realised
that a man of goodwill might nonetheless emerge from within its dark corridors.
So the President resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness
at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the
combined weight of these pressures and its own failures. And when a man of
goodwill did emerge from the ruins, President Reagan stepped forward to shake
his hand and to offer sincere cooperation.
Nothing was more typical of Ronald Reagan than that large-hearted magnanimity -
and nothing was more American.
Therein lies perhaps the final explanation of his achievements. Ronald Reagan
carried the American people with him in his great endeavours because there was
perfect sympathy between them. He and they loved America and what it stands for
- freedom and opportunity for ordinary people.
As an actor in Hollywood's golden age, he helped to make the American dream live
for millions all over the globe. His own life was a fulfilment of that dream. He
never succumbed to the embarrassment some people feel about an honest expression
of love of country.
He was able to say `God Bless America' with equal fervour in public and in
private. And so he was able to call confidently upon his fellow-countrymen to
make sacrifices for America - and to make sacrifices for those who looked to
America for hope and rescue.
With the lever of American patriotism, he lifted up the world. And so today the
world - in Prague, in Budapest, in Warsaw, in Sofia, in Bucharest, in Kiev and
in Moscow itself - the world mourns the passing of the Great Liberator and
echoes his prayer "God Bless America".
Ronald Reagan's life was rich not only in public achievement, but also in
private happiness. Indeed, his public achievements were rooted in his private
happiness. The great turning point of his life was his meeting and marriage with
On that we have the plain testimony of a loving and grateful husband: `Nancy
came along and saved my soul'. We share her grief today. But we also share her
pride - and the grief and pride of Ronnie's children.
For the final years of his life, Ronnie's mind was clouded by illness. That
cloud has now lifted. He is himself again - more himself than at any time on
this earth. For we may be sure that the Big Fella Upstairs never forgets those
who remember Him. And as the last journey of this faithful pilgrim took him
beyond the sunset, and as heaven's morning broke, I like to think - in the words
of Bunyan - that `all the trumpets sounded on the other side'.
We here still move in twilight. But we have one beacon to guide us that Ronald
Reagan never had. We have his example. Let us give thanks today for a life that
achieved so much for all of God's children.