Peggy Grande is one of the most humble people you will ever meet. She has probably met more world leaders and talked to more famous people than you or I could imagine, but you would never know it unless you asked her.
Peggy Grande had the pleasure of sitting next to one of the most iconic political figures of all time almost everyday for nearly ten years. That man was my hero and is my son’s namesake. That man was the one and only Ronald Wilson Reagan.
The Email Interview: Peggy Grande
BB: You had the most incredible opportunity to work for President Ronald Reagan in his post presidential office. What are three things you learned working with President Reagan on a daily basis?
PG: Wow. Sharing just 3 from among the amazing ten years I worked for him is a challenge, but I would have to say that everything I witnessed and experienced can probably be summed up by the following three:
1. People always want to know, “Was he everything I thought and hoped he would be? ” and I have to say “No — He was better!” No matter how high the pedestal was that you have put Ronald Reagan on, he was worthy of that high esteem and was even more terrific in person than in image.
Everything you saw on the outside was who he was on the inside. There was no difference between his public persona and his personal persona. He didn’t behave differently when he knew people were watching than he did in private. He was kind and humble, polite and genuine. Always.
2. Ronald Reagan was known as “The Great Communicator” and most of the world remembers him for his written words, his famous speeches and his public statements. I was blessed to know him “behind the scenes” and was constantly amazed at how his actions spoke even louder than his words. The gentlemanly ways in which he treated me as his personal assistant – holding my elbow as we would walk up and down stairs, always waiting for me to walk in front of him into a room or event and always offering to assist if there was a need. Pure class.
3. Ronald Reagan showed me what true leadership looks like. And though he had been a Hollywood actor, his version of leadership is not at all what we generally see portrayed on TV or in the movies. Ronald Reagan’s leadership was characterized by genuine humility, awareness of others and kindness toward them, trust in his staff which inspired their loyalty, and he generously gave respect rather than demanding it.
He also didn’t take himself too seriously and used appropriate humor to defuse tension or make a point. Though not a day went by without my realizing the unique and overwhelming honor of serving such a great man, he always communicated gratitude for my work, which gave me the confidence I needed to serve him with excellence.
BB: While in the post presidential office who was the most interesting/famous person you were able to meet?
PG: Over the course of ten years “anyone who was anyone” in the world of politics, sports, entertainment, business or pop culture came by the office to say hello to Ronald Reagan and welcome him back to California after his years in Washington, D.C.
Of course there were many memorable visits, like Scott O’Grady, the USAF pilot shot down behind enemy lines who survived by eating bugs until his rescue, or the sitting President at the time, George H.W. Bush, who would come in and chat and have lunch with his friend “Ron”, or watching President Reagan interact on a personal level with Brian Mulroney, Margaret Thatcher or Mikhail Gorbachev, or other world leaders in an informal way as two regular people, rather than political allies.
As President Reagan’s personal photographer I got to be the ultimate “fly on the wall” and personally observe these interactions firsthand. Even in “private” meetings, the photographer stays, so I was fortunate to have a front row seat to many memorable and profound moments.
As a Christian I would say that meeting Rev. Billy Graham was very special, as was meeting Mother Teresa. As I looked at Mother Teresa’s weathered hands and feet and pictured the thousands of people she had selflessly served on the streets of Calcutta with the Sisters of Charity, it was a humbling and moving experience.
BB: President Reagan’s centennial anniversary was in 2011 and you were able to serve as a consultant for the Reagan Centennial. While traveling the country and celebrating the life of Ronald Reagan at the different events, did you learn anything new about the President?
PG: My grandmother had 26 grandchildren and every one of us was certain that WE were her favorite! She had an incredible way of making everyone feel special and important. Ronald Reagan was the same way – every aspect of his life that connected with the Centennial felt that they had an extra special place in Ronald Reagan’s life and his legacy – and they did.
Whether it was the sports world, radio broadcasting, political organizations, religious organizations, academic universities or the movie industry – they all celebrated him as “theirs”.
During his life Ronald Reagan connected uniquely with numerous different arenas of life and during the Reagan Centennial we were able to reconnect with each of those groups in meaningful, memorable ways that paid tribute to the impact Ronald Reagan had made on them. It was like a “Victory Lap” of Ronald Reagan’s life, which was an honor to be part of, especially since I had known him personally and worked so closely with him for so many years.
BB: What is your assessment of the Reagan legacy today and in the future?
PG: Of course Ronald Reagan has become an iconic “superhero” for conservatives and the Republican Party. However, as the years have passed I think that his legacy is one of strong leadership and coalition building, not only across the political aisles here domestically, but internationally as well.
Politics aside, Ronald Reagan is recognized as a savvy, intuitive, emotionally intelligent leader who had a knack for connecting in meaningful ways to people from all walks of life and all political persuasions. No matter your politics you couldn’t have met Ronald Reagan and not liked him personally. That is a trait of a truly great leader. I think over time he will continually be recognized as such and esteem of him will continue to grow.
I also believe that the legacy of a President is not something that can be told the moment they leave the White House. The implications of policies and alliances which were built during the years as President cannot fully be measured immediately – they require the perspective of time. Not long after Ronald Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War with Russia was defused, and people all across Eastern Europe began to experience increased freedom and opportunity to varying degrees as never before. This was all in direct response to Ronald Reagan’s challenges like “Tear down this wall……” and his commitment to personal relationship building at the highest levels of diplomacy to enact real, and lasting, change.
Ronald Reagan took office with the determination to fix the economy and bring freedom to oppressed people all around the world. While doing so, he also restored America’s pride in itself and the belief that the best days for America were yet ahead.
I think that the conclusion of his farewell address sums it up better than I ever could:
“We’ve done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all. “