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Reagan's Fall From Grace : The $2-Million Japan Tour, Nancy's Vengeful Memoirs and Legal Battles Over the Iran-Contra Affair Have Made His Retirement Anything but Restful

March 04, 1990|Martin Kasindorf | Martin Kasindorf is Los Angeles correspondent for Newsday. He has covered much of Ronald Reagan's political career.

Reagan's rooms and those of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, the Nancy Reagan Foundation and the Secret Service detail (Reagan calls them "S.S. agents") take up the heavily secured top floor. The ex-presidential suite, studded with bronze eagles and sagebrush canvases, could belong to the president of a major university except for the photos of Reagan with world leaders. The 20 or so faces in the suite, from the rangy chief of staff, Fred Ryan, to the greenest intern, are predominantly youthful and as conservative-looking as an "Up With People!" chorus.

When he arrives, Reagan finds on his desk a copy of the presidential news summary faxed from the White House. First off, he confers with Ryan, Weinberg and Kathy Osborne, his executive assistant, on the day's agenda. Then the parade of visitors begins. They have included Vice President Dan Quayle, Mother Teresa, Brian Mulroney of Canada and other visiting prime ministers. Journalists are asked to provide a list of questions for Reagan in advance.

In a conference room dominated by the breathtaking view, Reagan videotapes a testimonial, say, for a Billy Graham tribute. No longer supplied a Peggy Noonan, he inks his own brief comments for an American Ireland Fund dinner ("as Henry the Eighth said to each of his six wives, 'I won't keep you long' "), or answers a letter that appeals to him.

Every few weeks, Lindsey flies in from Carmel. Reagan dictates thoughts for the memoirs then; at other times, he jots them down on yellow legal pads at home. Reagan hints that--with a few nods to the early years he recorded in the 1965 "Where's the Rest of Me?"--his memoirs will be a milder "My Turn," emphasizing his explanations of controversial White House decisions. The Simon & Schuster book, Janklow says, could appear as early as this fall. But Reagan will be no Nixon: Like Nancy, he has no plans for other books.

Edmund Morris, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Theodore Roosevelt, traveled from Washington recently to ask some of his final questions for the Random House historical biography of Reagan that he expects to deliver early in 1991, after six years of generous access to his subject. "He's the most cooperative man in the world," Morris says of the former President, who is receiving no money for the book.

Reagan is briefed every two weeks on the progress of his library, which is expected to open soon after his 80th birthday next year. Driven from Stanford University by faculty and student opposition, the $43-million-plus project is under construction at a Simi Valley hilltop site donated by developers who own adjoining acreage. The location, one scarcely associated with Reagan, is at least convenient, "between the ranch and his Bel-Air home," rationalizes Charles Jelloian, the library foundation's operations director. The Mission-style building will contain a museum "centered on the '80s," Jelloian says, as well as presidential papers and research rooms. For now, the tons of documents are stuffed into a Culver City warehouse under National Archives control.

The foundation trustees are headed by two former attorneys general, William French Smith as chairman and Edwin Meese III as the forgiving vice chairman. (Nancy bashed Meese in "My Turn.") The trustees will turn the completed library over to the government but will operate a conference center there. In keeping with the self-conscious policy of withholding the names of corporations paying Reagan to speak, something any cub reporter can discover after a few phone calls, the foundation more successfully guards its list of contributors.

The former First Lady has her own impeccable office at the Nancy Reagan Foundation, where she works on the anti-drug fight a few days a month. Her foundation, its blue-chip board chaired by former CIA director Richard Helms, raises $500,000 a year, mainly through a celebrity tennis tournament. It has distributed grants to drug education and treatment programs helping primarily minority youngsters in Southern California. The foundation schedules her appearances at schools, where she is still urging children to "just say no."

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