| 06 June 2010
. In 1976, Ronald Reagan put on a spirited campaign to seize the Republican nomination from the incumbent Gerald Ford. And apparently it occurred to him that it might be wise to meet with the editors of Reader’s Digest, to hear what we had to say. So on a beautiful Spring evening, Governor Reagan and his campaign manager came to the RD Guest House to dine with Wally and ten of his editors.
It was a memorable evening. Drinks were poured and Reagan immediately began to explain “how delighted I am to be here. I can’t tell you what a relief this is! Out there on the trail it is madness. Questions! Speeches! Going here ... going there. Never a chance to relax. And now ...” he raised his glass and swept it right and then left, in a symbolic toast to each of us ... “now here I am with you fellas, in this lovely old building, able to relax at last.” [The “fellas,” it should be noted, included three lovely lady editors!] (click Read More above)
And that’s the way it went. I suppose we editors managed a few probing questions during cocktails -- “what was Ford like? How was Carter doing” -- but mostly we listened as Reagan told us, over and over, how glad he was to be with us. As I sipped my second drink, I found myself watching Wally’s expression change from polite interest to mild exasperation to unfeigned boredom.
Finally, blessedly, it was time for dinner. We moved to the table; found our seats; wine was poured; salads appeared. I was still watching Wally, and it seemed to me he was poised to say something important. But Reagan couldn’t wait.
“Oh, golly!’ he announced. “Isn’t this special! What a lovely room! Why, I haven’t been this relaxed in months ... not since I announced my candidacy. All those questions! All those speeches! Now, look at me! Relaxing with you guys! Having fun! Wally, here’s to you and your colleagues, and to your wonderful magazine!”
He paused for breath. Wally was looking at his salad. As I studied his handsome face, I sensed a transformation taking place. Wally was normally a polite, attentive, sober-sided host. A good person; a responsible citizen. But there was another side to him. Hiding inside the sober adult was a teenaged boy, impish, freedom-loving, always ready when bored to “light out for the territories.”
Now, clearly, the territories were beckoning. “Governor Reagan,” he began. (I glanced across the table at Susie Thompson, a close editorial colleague. Susie -- no “fella” she, nor “guy” -- rolled her eyes at me. I rolled mine back. Something was coming.) “We are so happy that you’re pleased to be here. For our part, we are equally pleased to have you. And since relaxation seems to be in order...” Wally looked up at the table and smiled at everyone ... “I want to assure you that our program for you this evening is very simple.”
He paused for a few pregnant seconds. Reagan was staring in alarm at his campaign guy. Wally continued. “When we’re done with dinner, you’re expected to make a brief speech at the Elks Club. It’s just up the road. Nothing fancy. Twenty-minute talk, some questions, that’s it. We’re out of there. And then ....” he looked up again. There was an impish gleam in his eye; his inner teenager was on a roll. “Then we’ll go over to the Knights of Columbus. They’re down in Kisco, ten minutes from here. I believe they’re expecting something a little more elaborate ... 30-minute talk, say, some questions and photos. And that’s it ... uh ... for tonight. Now, tomorrow morning, at 6:30 ... they really do like to get an early start ... the Chamber of Commerce is throwing a special breakfast in your honor. We’ll want to be on time because ....”
I glanced at Susie again. She couldn’t help herself. A giggle escaped her lips, prompting a much louder guffaw on my part, followed by smiles and giggles around the table. Reagan looked sharply at me, then at a still-giggling Susie, then at his wide-eyed campaign guy. And then at last the light went on. “Haw! Haw!” he bellowed. “Oh, Wally! Oh, my! You really had me going! I thought you were serious. You should have been an actor!”
The presidential candidate laughed and laughed, and wiped tears from his eyes, and raised his glass to each of us in turn. “Now ... see ... that’s just what I mean. What fun it is to be here, having some laughs, just us guys. What a relief! What a blessed relief! Why I ....”And off he went again ....
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