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From Fayette County to California state: Nation mourns Ronald Reagan

| Monday, June 7, 2004

From the United States commander in chief to the Fayette County commanders, officials remember former President Ronald Reagan, who died at the age of 93 of pneumonia at his home in California.

President Bush was in France for a D-Day commemoration when he heard of Reagan's passing. He called the former president's death a sad hour in the life of America.

"Ronald Reagan won America's respect with his greatness and won its love with his goodness," said Bush in a television address. "He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom."

Today, Reagan's body will be moved from a Santa Monica funeral home to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Following a private family ceremony, it will lie in repose at the library through Tuesday night, giving Reagan's fellow Californians a chance to pay their final respects to the man who was their governor from 1967 to 1975.

On Wednesday, the former president's body is to be flown to Washington, D.C. Following a state funeral, it will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Friday.

The funeral will be at Washington National Cathedral where Bush will speak. The body will then be returned to Reagan's presidential library in Simi Valley for a private burial service.

Throughout the day Sunday, mourners milled around the Santa Monica funeral home, many leaving behind American flags, flowers and jars of jelly beans -- Reagan's favorite treat.

Chris Sepesy, Fayette County Republican Party chairman, met Reagan three times and even has an autographed photo of him and Reagan with a "thanks for working on an important bill" when Sepesy worked for the late Sen. John Heinz.

"He was very warm, genuine, not imposing," said Sepesy. "He made you feel like the most important person on the planet."

Sepesy, who was 15 years old when Reagan was elected, said Reagan also made an impression on him as a leader.

Sepesy said his generation saw a lack of leadership in government before then-California Gov. Reagan assumed the presidency.

"It was a refreshing welcome and a revelation," said Sepesy, who was at a Republican State Committee Meeting in Harrisburg when news of Reagan's passing filtered through the crowd as they were getting ready for dinner.

The reaction, said Sepesy, wasn't one of shock, but of sadness since the public learned in 1994 that he had Alzheimer's.

"A genuine hero is gone," said Sepesy.

"I believe we lost one of our greatest presidents," said Fayette County Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink. "Through very difficult times and strong opposition, President Reagan remained true to his political and economic convictions."

Zimmerlink added that Reagan did so with humor and humility.

"In many regards, present and future leaders should emulate President Reagan," said Zimmerlink, who was out of college when Reagan was elected and followed the presidency that made an impression on her, of a man who did not fold under pressure.

"I admire somebody that remains true to his convictions," Zimmerlink said.

Fayette County Commissioner Joe Hardy met Reagan a couple of times when in Washington, D.C.. He, too, was impressed with Reagan as a man and as a leader.

"When he looked at you, he focused on you and made you felt like you were the most important person in the world," said Hardy. "He was a great, great American. No question about it."

Hardy said Reagan gave the Republican party a revitalizing blood, made a point without yelling and took great stands in history, like with the fall of the Berlin Wall, a piece of which is on display at Nemacolin Woodlands.

Hardy also was impressed that Reagan got into politics after he made a living and a name for himself as an actor and governor from 1967 to 1975.

"I hope types like that get interested in politics," Hardy said.

Bush said that Reagan always told the country that the best was yet to come.

"We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for him, too," said Bush. "His work is done, and now a shining city awaits him."

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