Professors Remember Reagan as Successful President at Peace With Himself

Before the 1980 presidential election, Steve Bell jokingly told Ronald Reagan’s staff that the former actor was an “old man who would never make it.”

Bell, a professor of telecommunications, remarked on the error of his words this weekend.

“That shows how much of an expert I was,” Bell said.

Reagan, who died Saturday at the age of 93, was elected president of the United States on Nov. 4, 1980, soon after Bell made that comment and served for two terms as one of the most popular presidents ever.

Bell traveled with Reagan before he was elected, covering him for “Good Morning America.” At an event one night, following about 10 other speakers, Reagan gave a short speech about the Middle East. Bell told a staff member that he was disappointed in its depth. Reagan found out.

“How many people spoke ahead of me last night?” Reagan said. “Every time someone sat down I had to cross out another line because they had already used it.”

It was a fun moment, but the next day, Reagan repeated the line. He had forgotten that he had said it the day before. That’s when Bell struck back, calling Reagan a forgetful old man. The two were having fun on the trip.

“It was a chance to get to appreciate what a delightful guy he was to be around and get misled about how capable he was,” Bell said.

Bell said Reagan, despite what people might think about the policies, was good at his job in the White House.

“He’s the most successful president I covered in terms of getting done what he wanted to get done,” Bell said.

Ken Heinen, assistant professor of photojournalism, was a White House news photographer for 34 years. He worked for The Washington Star and Newsweek and covered every president from Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton. He said he liked Reagan as a president.

“He was very comfortable,” Heinen said. “He was kind to everyone around him.”

Heinen would also get the chance to photograph First Lady Nancy Reagan from time to time.

“I used to enjoy covering Nancy,” Heinen said. “She was just really, really wonderful with the children.”

Heinen said one of his favorite pictures of President Reagan was taken at a Baltimore Orioles game. Photographers were airlifted with the president to the game from the White House. Once they got there, Heinen and the other photographers, lugging around their photo equipment, had to run up and down the ball park steps as it was being decided where the president would sit. Once Reagan was situated, Heinen took pictures of him while he ate a hot dog and enjoyed the game.

“We got a really neat series,” Heinen said.

Bell said he found that being comfortable with oneself, the way Reagan was at the ball park, is one of the most important things a president needs going into office, and Reagan had it.

“Nixon’s paranoia ruined what could have been a brilliant presidency,” Bell said. “Bill Clinton obviously had problems that undermined his own effectiveness.

“Ronald Reagan was at peace with himself.”