Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Pre-Alzheimer's, Reagan lived a dream retirement


The day former US president George Herbert Walker Bush took over the Oval Office in 1989, the Gipper returned to Reagan Country beaming with an aw-shucks smile and dreams of chopping wood and riding his horse at his mountaintop ranch.

"There's nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse," the nation's 40th chief executive said at the time, repeating an oft-quoted phrase.

Ronald Reagan basked in the glory of retirement, but then the slow death of Alzheimer's disease robbed the life of the former president and he became a recluse under the protection of his wife and caregiver, Nancy.


He filled his first post-White House years with US$50,000 speaking engagements, nights on the town with Hollywood elite and trips to his beloved Rancho del Cielo, north of Santa Barbara.

It was there in 1992 that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev hopped into Reagan's blue Jeep and went for a tour of the ranch with Reagan at the wheel.

Reagan showed off his manmade pond, hand-hewn corral fencing, horses and the giant California oak trees he had recently trimmed.

"I love the dappled look on the ground when the sun comes through," Reagan once said.

Reagan wrote in a 40th wedding anniversary tribute to Nancy in 1992: "We relax at the ranch, which if not heaven itself, probably has the same ZIP code. Nothing draws a couple closer together than to find a pretty spot, maybe a ukulele and a canoe -- Nancy's idea of the perfect romantic setting -- and share happy thoughts of the past."

For the retired cowboy-politician, staying at the ranch one week a month seemed fitting. On the way home, Reagan usually stopped by his presidential library in Simi Valley, midway between the ranch and his Bel-Air home.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library had opened in grand style in 1991 with an unforgettable moment as five presidents -- Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Reagan and Bush -- strolled the portico together.

meat loaf

The retirement years weren't always such lofty moments, however.

Reagan thrilled passers-by when he went Christmas shopping at a mall near his Century City office, a lavish space atop Fox Plaza, the glass-and-granite building used in the 1988 Bruce Willis movie Die Hard. He loved lunches at the California Pizza Kitchen, as well as Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies.

After a few hours at his office, visiting with old friends, posing for snapshots and gazing toward the coast, Reagan went home to work out in his basement gym.

Dinner at home meant his favorite meal: meat loaf and macaroni and cheese. But in those early post-Washington years, Chasen's restaurant, and the booth where he proposed to Nancy, was a frequent evening destination.

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