Honor Your Father: At Oklahoma Christian University’s “Libertas” program, Michael Reagan praises Ronald Reagan’s example and model

by Patrick B. McGuigan

Published 04-Feb-2011

Oklahoma Christian University presented its “Libertas” Award to the late President Ronald Reagan recently. Michael Reagan, the president’s eldest son, was there to accept the award and offer his own tribute. The event was held on the anniversary of President Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, just days before what would have been his 100th birthday.

Highlight of the evening was a wide-ranging address from Michael, who reflected on what he considered Divine guidance that led his father to greatness, a destiny rooted in the simple spiritual values imbued by Nelle and Jack Reagan during his childhood in Illinois.

The younger Reagan conveyed a sense of awe at the example of his father who, recovering an assassination attempt early in his presidency, knelt at his bedside on the day of his dismissal from a doctor’s care. There he prayed for the man who had tried to kill him.

Michael pointed to the similar example of Pope John Paul II, who also knelt to thank God for the medical care that had saved his life, then subsequently visited in prison the man who had tried to kill him. He reflected, “Two people, worlds apart. One Protestant, one Catholic, doing the same thing. These were men who lived the Lord’s Prayer. And because they honored the Lord, He honored them.”

Michael noted the two men had not yet met when their brushes with death took place. They later became close allies in the process that led to the destruction of Soviet Communism. He also pointed to the seemingly Providential timing that brought John Paul II, President Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and other key leaders onto the world stage at more or less the same time. The impact of each of those individuals on the thinking of Mikhail Gorbachev was incalculable, the young Reagan reflected, and triggered events that soon after President Reagan’s departure from office led to the fall of the Berlin Wall – on November 9, 1989.

Concerning destruction of that Edifice of tyranny, Michael reflected humorously on the dozens of memoranda from State Department advisors and others begging President Reagan to delete from his famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, a call for Gorbachev to “Tear Down That Wall.” Reagan rejected the counsel of virtually all his counselors, and issued the stirring declaration that is widely credited for a key role in the eventual fact of the Wall’s demise.

Reagan also described cheerfully the ways his father “spoke in parables,” including when he conveyed to him and his sister, Maureen, the effects of taxation and regulation, using examples of his children’s allowance and other similes.

The gentle and sometimes lyrical speech from Michael Reagan ended with his recollection of his father’s speech at the 1976 Republican convention, when he outlined a message to the future. That address was in many ways another version of his 1964 address supporting Barry Goldwater.

Reagan spoke at the GOP gathering, recalling a letter he wrote as governor of California to the generation that will be in charge of America in 2076 and 2087, at the 300th anniversaries of the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution, respectively.

Michael Reagan said his father’s enduring message was not only for his own times, but all time: “We can’t forget what we need to do tomorrow,” to assure the preservation and growth of Liberty.

“Libertas” is derived from classical Latin and means freedom, or, in some renderings, Liberty. The Libertas event, held at Oklahoma City’s National Cowboy Museum, drew roughly 300 people to support Oklahoma Christian University’s Academy of Leadership & Liberty.

Other speakers at the gala included General Tommy Franks (U.S.A., Ret.) who garnered warm praise in Michael Reagan’s address. Franks runs the academy for OC. Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb delivered the evening’s invocation, while Mark Stansberry, board chairman for the academy, gave the benediction.

Dr. Mike O’Neal, OC president, provided background on creation of the Academy of Leadership & Liberty, noting that it was the nation’s first president, George Washington, who spoke in spiritual terms about “the sacred fire of Liberty.” O’Neal lifted up the late President Reagan’s memory as a spiritual man. O’Neal said, “It is God who placed the dream of freedom in the hearts of men and women.”

Dr. Brian Bush, executive director of the academy, extolled past recipients of the Libertas Award and OC’s range of historic donors, including the late E.L. Gaylord and the late Dr. George S. Benson, chancellor of the school from 1961-67 and founder of the National Education Program (NEP). The program combined ardent anti-communism with passionate intellectual defense of free enterprise and ordered liberty. The late President Reagan once reflected that he literally “could not count” the number of times he had cited Benson in speeches.

Four members of the Reagan Alumni Association – individuals who worked for or with the late president from 1981-89 – met with Michael Reagan at the end of the evening at the Cowboy Museum. The group included this reporter, author and political consultant R. Marc Nuttle, public relations specialist Brenda Jones, and Mark Stansberry of the academy board. This weekend (February 4, 5, and 6) Jones is attending anniversary celebrations at the Reagan Library in California.

NOTE: The photographs accompanying this story were taken by Judson Copeland.