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Citizen Reagans Are Home After Bittersweet Farewell

January 21, 1989|LEE MAY and LAURIE BECKLUND | Times Staff Writers

In what he called the sweet part of a bittersweet day, Ronald Reagan flew home to California with his wife, Nancy, on Friday, enjoying a silver-screen Los Angeles welcome after a stately but impassioned Washington farewell.

Citizens Ronald and Nancy Reagan emerged from their last official flight on the presidential jet at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Los Angeles International Airport with picture-perfect waves for a homecoming rally of 700 fans organized by Reagan's White House staff. Under warm but overcast skies, the Salvation Army Tournament of Roses Band played "California, Here I Come."'

In a fitting ceremony for an actor-turned-President and his wife, the Reagans were greeted by Mayor Tom Bradley, comedian Rich Little, former Atty. Gen. William French Smith and actor Robert Stack. "You are an example of the true American success story," Stack told his old friend. "You changed the course of history."

In brief, off-the-cuff remarks, Reagan told the cheering crowd of 700 that there "aren't enough words" to express "what is in my heart." Having to stay in Washington eight years left him in "a perpetual state of homesickness," he said.

On their way home aboard an Air Force jet that is known as Air Force One only when a sitting President is aboard, the Reagans--standing in the doorway to the aft cabin, his arm around her waist--spoke liberally about their personal transition, a shift from the high-profile and high-powered life in the White House to their new existence in Bel-Air.

The former President, relaxed and wearing a blue Air Force jacket that had replaced the dark one he wore during President Bush's inauguration, recalled some of his triumphs on foreign policy and the economy and lamented his inability to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision protecting women's right to abortion.

Reagan seemed to harbor no bitterness about the 1981 incident in which John W. Hinckley Jr. shot him, saying: "My thoughts about him after he did it was when I was praying for my own recovery. I prayed that he'd recover too, that whatever caused him to be that way that he would be cured. I don't know that he has been; I understand he's still in the hospital."

Hinckley remains in a Washington mental hospital.

Homecoming Conversation

But the Reagans' conversation with the 14 journalists accompanying them centered on leaving Washington and coming home.

The homecoming, Reagan said, "will be a return to a life we did love very much. California isn't a place in my mind; it's a way of life. So . . . that's the sweet part of the bittersweet experience" of leaving office.

"Overall," the eight years "went so quickly," Mrs. Reagan said, adding that the last two weeks were difficult "because people would come up and say: 'We'll miss you.' " She said that "it got to the point where I'd say: 'Don't say anything nice about me, please, because I'll start to cry.' "

Reagan said that "anyone who leaves that job (the presidency) leaves with a feeling of things undone, but you just run out of time." Now, he said, he will be "taking the case to the people and trying to impress the people on being supportive of these same things."

At 77, Reagan is the oldest retiring President in the nation's history. But, he made clear, he has no plans to slow down. He mentioned the possibility of foreign travel but said he has made no plans. And he has made no decision about whether to accept offers to broadcast on radio, a former occupation. As for movies, Reagan said, "that would look a little bit like trying to cash in on this job that I've had."

Mrs. Reagan, asked if she would try to "tie him down," said: "No, I'm not going to try. No, no, I don't believe in retirement, and he's going to be writing a book and I'm going to be finishing my book . . . . "

Aboard the plane were a number of the Reagans' White House aides, including Chief of Staff Kenneth M. Duberstein; M. B. Oglesby of the congressional relations staff; Elaine Crispen, Mrs. Reagan's press secretary, and Mark Weinberg, assistant Reagan press secretary. Also accompanying the Reagans were Mrs. Reagan's hairdresser, Julius Bengtsson. Weinberg will be the former President's press secretary in California. At one point during the flight, the Reagans were toasted with champagne. A black-and-white picture showing Reagan portraying an alcoholic businessman in a 1950s movie was circulated and signed by all aboard.

Long 'Nostalgic Moment'

Reagan said his last day as President was a long "nostalgic moment of wanting to take one more look at the place that every morning I've been walking in."

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Reagan and his wife walked hand-in-hand through the White House before they left. Reagan left a humorous note in the dressing room closet for Bush, the spokesman said, but would not reveal what it said. The last formal document he signed as President was a farewell and thank you to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

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