With solemn spectacle and moments of endearing levity, America bid farewell yesterday to Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, who some credit with winning the Cold War and who, on leaving the Oval Office after eight years, left a note warning the Rose Garden squirrels to "beware of the dog."
Dignified pageantry mixed with touching personal remembrances at his state funeral, after tens of thousands of ordinary Americans lined the routes of Mr. Reagan's last journey and millions more watched on television. It was a day of tribute and celebration, not grief, for the actor-turned-politician who died a week ago at 93, a decade after telling the world he had been stricken with Alzheimer's disease.
"We owe him our liberty," said Lech Walesa, the Polish electrician and later president whose Solidarity movement was at the vanguard battling Soviet communism in the 1980s, when Mr. Reagan was U.S. president. In Eastern Europe, at least, Mr. Reagan is widely regarded as a liberator.
The genial Mr. Reagan left other memories too, which were recounted for the 4,000 guests gathered for the formal state funeral in Washington's National Cathedral.
Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, 65, sent a ripple of gentle laughter through the crowd when he recalled waiting with Mr. Reagan for their wives in an Ottawa hangar in 1987. "You know, Brian," he recalled the president as saying, "for two Irishmen, we sure married up." The words brought a rare smile to the wan and strained face of Mr. Reagan's 82-year-old widow, Nancy.
In one of four eulogies, Mr. Mulroney, a close friend, said: "Ronald Reagan was a president who inspired his nation and transformed the world. He possessed a rare and prized gift called leadership -- that ineffable and magical quality that sets some men and women apart so that millions will follow them."
Former president George Bush, who served as Mr. Reagan's vice-president for two terms, was eloquent in offering some intimate personal glimpses of Mr. Reagan.
He told of Mr. Reagan on his hands and knees, at age 69, cleaning up a water spill in his hospital room in 1981, just days after surviving an attempted assassination, because he feared the nurse would get in trouble. And of Mr. Reagan, when asked how a meeting has gone with former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, glibly replying: "So-so." Another tale told of Mr. Reagan, who loved feeding the Rose Garden squirrels, leaving them a warning note about Mr. Bush's dog, Milly.
His son, the current President George W. Bush, also extolled the former Republican leader. "He showed us what a president should be; he also showed us what a man should be," Mr. Bush said. "Ronald Reagan carried himself, even in the most powerful office, with a decency and attention to small kindnesses that also define a good life. He was a courtly, gentle and considerate man, never known to slight or embarrass others."
It was a day of remarkable and often poignant images. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sat next to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the "Iron Lady" whose assessment that this was "a man we could do business with" paved the way for breakthrough talks between Mr. Reagan and the reformist communist.
In Lady Thatcher's eulogy, taped months ago because she has suffered a series of strokes, she said of Mr. Reagan: "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." Before the majestic service began, four former U.S. presidents (79-year-old Jimmy Carter, 90-year-old Gerald Ford, 57-year-old Bill Clinton and the senior Mr. Bush, who turns 80 today) chatted and mingled with the eclectic mix of political notables, international leaders and Mrs. Reagan's wide circle of friends from the show business and fashion industries, including comedian Joan Rivers and designer Oscar de la Renta.
Flag-waving children and tearful senior citizens lined Washington's rain-slicked avenues as Mr. Reagan's hearse, slowly made its way from the Capitol to the cathedral.
Canada was officially represented by Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, but her presence was overshadowed by Mr. Mulroney's prominent role. Prime Minister Paul Martin was only one of several world leaders who opted not to make the short hop to the funeral from the Group of Eight summit that ended Thursday on Sea Island, Ga. Although right-wing talk shows focused mainly, and harshly, on the decision of French President Jacques Chirac not to attend, the absence of Mr. Martin and Mexican President Vicente Fox was also noted.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, was one of the dozens of world leaders who did attend. "It is appropriate that the German chancellor says, 'Thank you,' and that is what I'm doing," said Mr. Schroeder. In Germany, flags flew at half-staff above government buildings.
Scores of dignitaries attended the funeral (the largest since that of John F. Kennedy 41 years ago), including more than 20 current leaders, 14 foreign ministers and 11 former heads of state. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and the newly installed interim president of Iraq, Ghazi al-Yawar, were among the guests.
The long day of remembrance began at dawn, as the last of those who had waited through the night filed past Mr. Reagan's casket lying in state beneath the Capitol's dome. More than 104,000 people had filed solemnly through since Wednesday night.
The day ended at sunset on the Pacific coast, at a private family burial on the site of the presidential library in the Simi Valley north of Los Angeles. There, Mr. Reagan's casket was interred not far from a three-tonne section of the Berlin Wall.
"Ronald Reagan does not enter history tentatively. He does so with certainty and panache. At home and on the world stage, his were not the pallid etchings of a timorous politician. They were the bold strokes of a confident and accomplished leader. . . . I am grateful that our paths crossed and that our lives touched." -- Former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
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." -- Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
"As his vice-president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did." -- Former U.S. president George Bush.
"Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to us. . . .
Ronald Reagan believed that everything happens for a reason and that we should strive to know and do the will of God. He believed that the gentleman always does the kindest thing. He believed that people were basically good and had the right to be free. He believed that bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of. He believed in the golden rule and in the power of prayer. He believed that America was not just a place in the world, but the hope of the world.
And he believed in taking a break now and then, because, as we said, there's nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse. . . .
We know, as he always said, that America's best days are ahead of us. But with Ronald Reagan's passing, some very fine days are behind us, and that is worth our tears." -- U.S. President George W. Bush