Above: Ron Reagan talks about life with his father, President Ronald Reagan, to promote his new book 'My Father at 100.' He was a guest of The Revelle Forum at the Neurosciences Institute on Jan. 26. Photos by Carol Sonstein
By Susan DeMaggio
Ron Reagan proved he’s every bit The Great Communicator’s son as he entertained an audience of 100 guests at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla on Jan. 26 with tales of growing up with actor/politician/statesman Ronald Reagan as his father.
His storytelling would do dad proud.
Ron, age 53, came to town as a guest of The Revelle Forum to promote his book, “My Father at 100,” which debuted Jan. 18 at No. 13 on the New York Times bestsellers list. He was interviewed on stage by Phyllis Pfeiffer, publisher of the La Jolla Light.
Ron told the audience that he wrote the book as his father’s 100th birthdate approached, with the hope of discovering the “10 percent of my dad’s isolated core that he closely guarded, and that even my mom couldn’t penetrate.”
Ron said he began to piece together impressions of his father’s early years by using the archives at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley and by taking trips to the Midwest towns his father grew up in. His findings, he said, led him to the conclusion that “Dad, early on, began to create a template for his life, deciding this is what I want to be: a real hero. He worked on this all his life.”
He said he realized that his dad, who was nearsighted, small for his age, and (due to the family’s many relocations) always the new kid on the block and chased by bullies, admired the local football players and high school leaders and strove to be like them.
He joked that his father “had a great capacity for denial,” which probably came from disappointing and unresolved experiences with his father, Jack, who was a heavy drinker, though “not an alcoholic,” according to Ron.
Those tough early years likely led to Reagan’s solitary core. “Dad was content on his own, comfortable with himself. He didn’t need a lot of friends,” Ron said.
“The great thing about my Dad, was that what you saw is what you got. He was truly a man without cynicism, without guile. He meant the best all the time. His sincere character was key to his popularity; people could see his fundamental decency.”
Ron addressed the critics, among them stepbrother, Michael, who said the book was written for personal gain and implies President Reagan had Alzheimer’s disease while in office. Ron denied the claims, defying critics to find any passages that said such.
(Reagan died from Alzheimer’s disease at age 93. He left office in 1989 and in a letter to the American people in 1994 revealed the diagnosis received that year.)
When asked what his mother Nancy (now age 90 and “doing very well,”) thought of the book, Ron said, “She appears to like it. She told me, ‘I read it. I loved it. It made me cry and I’m very proud of you.’ ”
Through his humorous reminisces (like the time he beat a visibly shaken father in a backyard swimming contest, and the time he left a disagreement with his dad’s nostrils flaring and pajamas flapping down the hall, fists clenched) Ron acknowledged that the pair rarely saw eye to eye on issues — especially when young Ron declared himself an atheist at age 12, left home at age 18, and dropped out of Yale University in 1976 after one semester to become a ballet dancer with the Joffrey Ballet’s second company.
But despite his liberal views, being the son of a conservative icon never dampened his love and admiration for his father.
Ron said there were many times (the assassination attempt in 1981 and the endless meetings with bureaucrats and politicos who Ron termed “inside people” for their pallid complexions, rumbled suits and somber demeanors) when his heart ached for this father (an outside person who loved sports, swimming and sunshine).
Ron’s reply was swift and pointed when asked if there was any similarity between Barack Obama and his father.
“Both are very good speakers,” he said. “Both show a willingness to compromise. But my dad was rhetorically straight and ahead with where he’s going. He wouldn’t withdraw from discussion. If he had to make 20 percent compromise, later he’d say that he got 80 percent of what he wanted, and that was pretty good.
“You’ve got to use the bully pulpit to get what you want. If you’ve got the bully pulpit, use it.”
About Ron Reagan
- Born Ronald Prescott Reagan on May 20, 1958 in Los Angeles
- Long-time resident of Seattle where he resides with his wife of 31 years, Doria (née Palmieri), a clinical psychologist
- Political broadcaster for MSNBC, CNN, 20/20, Air American Radio
- Activist for stem cell research since 2004
- Contributing writer to ‘Esquire,’ ‘Newsweek’ ‘The New Yorker’ and ‘Playboy’