Published June 09, 2004
WASHINGTON – Ronald Reagan's (search) children and wife, Nancy, gathered together in Washington for the first time in 20 years for a bittersweet reunion with old friends and dignitaries who came to honor the fallen president.
It was a much different setting and tone the last time the family was together in the nation's capital — to attend Reagan's second inauguration in 1985.
Mrs. Reagan was accompanied this time by her daughter, Patti, and son, Ron, along with Reagan's son, Michael, from his first marriage. Missing was daughter Maureen, who died from cancer in 2001 at age 60.
"It was obviously a happier occasion back then to celebrate the election of their husband and father as president," said Jeanne Winnick, a family spokeswoman who served in the Reagan administration. "This is a difficult trip."
Looking wan and worn, the family arrived from California at nearby Andrews Air Force Base (search) to start three days of tributes that will conclude with a national funeral service on Friday.
Mrs. Reagan took the lead role Wednesday for the family, emerging from the motorcade to acknowledge the crowd and watch the transfer of her husband's body to a horse-drawn caisson on Constitution Avenue just west of the Capitol (search).
"We love you, Mrs. Reagan!" one onlooker shouted.
In some ways, it was a fitting scene for a family that hasn't always been close. The children, who were college-age when Reagan was elected president in 1980, have complained they had to vie for his attention with the public and Mrs. Reagan, to whom he was completely devoted.
Michael, 57, was estranged from his parents for years. They later reconciled and he is now a nationally syndicated conservative radio talk show host.
Michael and Patti both wrote memoirs describing their father as detached and aloof.
Patti, 49, also dropped out of college and embarrassed her parents when she posed for Playboy magazine in 1994. She also acknowledged using cocaine and constantly rebelled against her father before his Alzheimer's (search) diagnosis helped heal some wounds.
Ron, 44, became a ballet dancer early in his career. He danced in his underwear on "Saturday Night Live" in 1986, while Reagan was in office, and was a vocal opponent of his father's conservative politics. He is now a TV producer.
Winnick said the children were likely comforted by the prospect of seeing this week the many people and dignitaries in Washington whom their father influenced and touched so deeply. But there also were likely to be some mixed feelings, she said.
"They always realized that in Washington they had to share him," Winnick said. "In California, it was private time. But here, when you look at the monuments and all the trappings of government, they realized he wasn't just their dad; he was the leader of our nation."