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The Real Reagan: A White House Insider's Take on This Conservative Superstar


WASHINGTON More than a decade after his death, President Ronald Reagan is beloved both for the way he changed the world and how he conducted himself as America's 40th president. Now a woman who worked for him in his later years is telling that part of his story.
Nearly three decades after Reagan left the White House, "the Gipper" remains as classic as his wardrobe. He's a conservative superstar Republicans love to quote and his image is a favorite for political internet memes.


"I think now more than ever we're wondering what real leadership looks like, what it can look like at the highest and best and Ronald Reagan certainly provides a great example of that," says Peggy Grande.    

Grande worked as Reagan's executive assistant for a decade after he left office.

In her new book, The President Will See You Now, she pulls back the curtain on Reagan's final years in public life.

"You know, we don't know in life why we're put in the places we are and I have no idea why God chose to pluck this young woman from obscurity and drop her at the feet of greatness, but I determined that I would be a good steward of that role," Grande said.

She witnessed firsthand Reagan's diagnosis and struggle with Alzheimers.

It was an adventurous job that placed a girl, fresh out of college, in the midst of world leaders, like the time Reagan invited his friend, Mikhail Gorbachev, to his ranch in California. Grande had to find a special gift for the former communist leader of the Soviet Union.
"And so what does a cowboy give another president? You give him a cowboy hat," she said. "So I was tasked with finding a cowboy hat for Gorbachev."
"So the pressure was to make sure it wasn't just a Stetson," she recalled. "But it had to be a little different from the president's so they weren't too matching and it also had to fit Gorbechev, so how do you figure out Gorbachev's hat size?"
After a number of overnight calls to Moscow and faxes with hand drawn diagrams, Grande finally got a hat size.

"It did fit him but we did get a call from Stetson a few days later saying that he had put the hat on backwards. So the best laid plans sometimes there's only so much you can do," she said.

Grande also says that the love between Nancy and Ronald Reagan was not just a rumor but very true from her experience with them.
"They were so cute to see together. I mean, they could be at opposite sides of the room and it was like magnets that eventually wound up being drawn back together. They were never just standing side by side. He was always holding her hand or he'd put his arm around to the small of her back and just a genuine love for each other, the delight that would light up his eyes when she walked into the room," she said.

"And you know every now and then I'd go around the corner in the office and maybe see them hugging or kissing in the hallway and Secret Service would kind of be backs to them thinking, 'Alright, I'll leave them alone.' But you know these were older people and they still had such a genuine love for each other," she added.

When Reagan went public with his Alzheimers diagnosis, Grande saw her professional purpose sharpen into focus.

"As a Christian myself I knew this was a great man of faith and so it was important to me to not only serve him in a professional capacity but to be aware of his faith and how I could support that, especially in those later years," she told CBN News.

"He loved going to church and it was very difficult after he made the Alzheimers announcement because the paparazzi would show up and it was very disruptive to the church and the other parishioners and so it was important to make sure that his pastor came and visited with him regularly and would come and bring the church bulletin and share with him a little summary of the message of that week," she said.

Grande eventually began to notice that something was not right with the president, when he started developing early stages of Alzheimers.
"There were just some things that were very specific that I started noticing," she recalled, "stories he had told a thousand times that maybe would stumble him up or he would lose his place."
"But it was very uncharacteristic for him," she added.

"By making it public he wanted to have research go to it, have awareness brought to the illness and really take a lot of the shame and the stigma away from so many families that suffer from it," Grande said.

Reagan is known as the "great communicator." 
He and America's current president certainly have different styles, but Grande thinks they'd have one thing in common: Twitter.
"I believe Ronald Reagan would have been a tweeter and that he would have used social media to connect directly to people," she said.

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