WASHINGTON — His hair shorter and noticeably grayer, his statutory authority gone but his sense of humor intact, former President Ronald Reagan returned to the White House Wednesday.
With his wife, Nancy, standing by, he took one look at their official portraits, on display for the first time, and cracked: "They're sure different than a lot of those cartoons we had to put up with."
Reagan was full of the jokes that he had used to spice his speeches throughout his White House years.
"Well, George and Barbara and distinguished guests: As Henry VIII said to each one of his six wives, I won't keep you long," he began.
"I can't really find the words to express how I feel to be back here in this house," Reagan said. "Maybe it's because my staff is a bit smaller now than it used to be," he added, referring to the fact that he no longer has a stable of presidential speech writers.
President Bush said that Reagan's likeness "reflects the qualities that make him so special--kindness, gallantry, decency and humor."
Bush proved himself gallant as well in describing Mrs. Reagan's portrait.
"Here stands a person who refurbished the White House with grace and with elegance," he said, "who helped millions of Americans say 'no' to drugs and started what has become a real crusade across our country--thank God: No to drugs and yes to life."
After the ceremony ended, Reagan squeezed in one more story, this one from a state dinner honoring French President Francois Mitterrand and his wife, Danielle.
Mrs. Mitterrand said something to him twice in French, and Reagan asked an interpreter to tell him what she had said. "I was standing on her gown," he recalled.
The separate portraits of the Reagans were painted in oil by Aaron Shikler of New York. The former President's will be hung on the first floor of the White House. Mrs. Reagan's will be hung one floor below, on the ground floor.
The portrait ceremony was the final event in a day that found the Reagans going from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. On Capitol Hill, he drew a cheering crowd of 1,500 at the noon dedication of the Ronald Reagan Republican Center, headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Reagan had lunch at the Commerce Department and stopped in southeast Washington at the Martin Luther King Elementary School, which he "adopted" in 1983 at the same time that he chose Rudolph Hines, then 7, as a pen pal. Reagan told about 200 youngsters to "study hard . . . be good friends and neighbors . . . tell your parents what you learn and ask them to help you."