Ron Reagan celebrated the launch of his book "Ron Reagan: May Father at 100" at The Jefferson Hotel on Monday night, hosted by Connie Milstein, J.C. de La Haye Saint Hilaire, Tammy Haddad and Ted Greenberg.
Most of the guests had firsthand knowledge of the president, as either reporters, colleagues or friends. Niteside caught up with a few who were willing to address the controversial issue as to whether the president had Alzheimer's while in office, a constant sidebar of gossip in Washington circles.
Lloyd Hand, former Chief of Protocol under President Lyndon Johnson, recalled a time Reagon was reviewing index cards before speaking to the National Alliance of Business. "He mixed up his cards with those of the ...chairman. However, I don’t think that it was a sign of early Alzheimer’s; I think it was a slight mistake that all of us can make."
Hand continued, "I was with him a number of times, but I never saw any evidence of that at all, but his son Ron would be closer to him and see that. I first met Ronald Reagan when I was running for lieutenant governor of California on the Democratic ticket when he was running for governor against Pat Brown.... I resigned as Chief of Protocol, announced the next day, but didn’t win."
Ronald Reagan did. The rest is history.
“I think Ron Reagan and his disclosures about his father were deeply personal,” said Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation: “I feel they were very honest and, more importantly, Leslie Stahl and others I know that worked with Ronald Reagan at that time shared the fact that he had already begun to have an Alzheimer's affliction before he left office and I think that with all due respect... I expect that Ron may have it more correctly than others because they’re corroborating stories."
Shortly after Reagan's presidency ended, Clemons briefed him prior to a sponsored trip to Japan. "I noticed when I interviewed both Nancy and President Reagan that there were lapses, long lapses," Clemons said.
"Also, my chairman when I ran the Japan American Society of Southern California, was also the secretary of the Ronald Reagan Library. They played golf; they knew Ronald Reagan very closely and I was in that world. It wasn’t as if they were out there with any intention of disparaging the president or to raise key questions, but all of them knew at the time that he had great lapses. I suspect that Ron’s recollections were right on the mark.”
Ron Reagan, Greta van Susteren and John Coales
No one seems to know the answer to the did-he-or-didn't-he question. There appears to be no govement medical records that we know of (repeat, that we know of) suggesting the Alzheimer's situation, but then again, the government is full of surprises. Maybe they'll tell us someday.
(Lead image: Ron Reagan, Betsy Fischer and Jon Meacham)