Faculty Members Remember Reagan Legacy

DM Staff Writer
The Daily Mississippian
The University of Mississippi

As the country lays its 40th president to rest today, members of the Oxford community remember Ronald Wilson Reagan in their own ways.

Waller Funeral Home provided a register for citizens to sign all week.

The register, which will be sent to the Reagan Presidential Library, will be available for people to sign until next Friday, Bob and Beth Rosson, the managers of Waller Funeral Home said.

“The register book is available to allow members of our community to express their sympathy to the Reagan family in a personal way,” Rosson said.

Rosson said they received the register book as members of the National Funeral Directors Association.

He said funeral homes throughout the country will also receive register books.

Rosson described Reagan as a strong and diligent leader of the United States for many years.

“We appreciate and respect his family’s decision to include our nation in their journey through his battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and to include the nation as they mourn his death and celebrate a life well lived,” Rosson said.

Curtis Wilkie, Cook Chair and associate professor of journalism, was a member of the press corps during the first two years of Reagan’s administration.

Wilkie said it would take some time to determine how historians will view the legacy Reagan left behind.

“It’s a mixed bag, and I think history is an odd thing,” Wilkie said. “It will probably be 50 years before people will be able to make a good decision.”

Wilkie said Reagan could be remembered as the ultimate victor in the Cold War or for his much disputed economic policies.

Wilkie said Reagan was an interesting figure regardless of how he is remembered.

“He had an ability to inspire people, which was probably in part because of his Hollywood background,” Wilkie said. “He had a very sure sense of image.”

Reagan inherited the Carter administration’s somewhat discouraged environment, but was able to create a sense of optimism among his loyal following, Wilkie said.

Wilkie remembered Reagan delivering a stunning speech to a shocked nation on the night of the Challenger disaster. He said Reagan had the ability to rally people.

Wilkie said in spite of Reagan’s good qualities, the impact of his economic policies had adverse effects on a great deal of Americans.

“He was blind to a lot of inequities in American life,” Wilkie said. “I don’t think he cared a lot about the poor conditions in which a lot of people live.”

Wilkie said his favorite story about Reagan involved Ole Miss journalism graduate, Larry Speakes, who served as Reagan’s second press secretary.

Speakes had assigned seats for a televised press conference so Reagan, who had a problem remembering reporters’ names, knew where everyone was seated. As a joke, some reporters switched seats, Wilkie said.

Wilkie said when Speakes found out, he began hissing at the press off-camera, and Reagan got so confused he called a woman reporter by a man’s name.

Wilkie said while he had faults, he didn’t think Reagan had any outright enemies.

“He had a very intense following of people who truly loved him which is pretty rare among politicians,” Wilkie said.

Richard Forgette, department chair and professor of political science, said he felt Republicans wouldn’t be the majority party in Congress if it hadn’t been for Reagan.

Forgette said the transformative leader solidified the Republican movement in the South, and was probably instrumental in encouraging young people to run as Republicans in the region.

John Bruce, associate professor of political science, said Reagan was probably the most popular American president. He said people connected to Reagan even if they didn’t share his views.

“He had a niceness about him that we haven’t seen again,” Bruce said.