The celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Ronald Reagan brings to mind my first revealing encounter with him. It was the result of the 1986 seizure by the Soviet KGB of the Moscow bureau chief of U.S.News & World Report, Nick Daniloff.
I went to Moscow to try to secure his release, but it became obvious he had been arrested on a trumped-up charge and would be a hostage until America released a real spy. Only a week before, the United States had seized an employee at the Soviet mission to the United Nations who had been caught red-handed trying to buy secret weapons technology relating to heat-resistant metals for rockets and jet engines. Nick was in jail as trading bait.
On my return to the United States, I worked in the White House with the president and his senior staff. We met virtually on a daily basis for the better part of a month, as the White House struggled to work out an acceptable basis on which Daniloff could be repatriated.
This was how I came to have firsthand experience of President Reagan in private action. He attended many of the almost daily discussions organized by the White House team. He had an unfailing optimism, an unending, self-deprecating sense of humor, and a calmness and charm that were totally devoid of any conceit. He was totally engaging at all times and spoke in plain language, both privately and publicly. He was also a marvelous storyteller. We shared a love of jokes, and he and his wonderful wife, Nancy, were kind enough to invite me to Washington to share dinner with them a number of times, always with the admonition from the president to save, for him, my best jokes. [See photos of Reagan’s life.]