With Father’s Day and the 15th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s death (June 5, 2004) at our backs, I’ve got a great and inspiring story about the 40th president and his father-in-law that readers will find fascinating.
Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty, who had been working on a biography of Nancy Reagan, discovered a long-lost letter from President Ronald Reagan to his father-in-law at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library among the personal belongings of the former first lady.
Loyal Davis was Mrs. Reagan’s father and a pioneering neurosurgeon, and he was just days away from death.
Tumltry explained, “Something tugged at Ronald Reagan on that August weekend in 1982 [as he was in the White House]. The President noted in his diary: ‘More of Saturdays work plus a long letter I have to write to Loyal. I’m afraid for him. His health is failing badly.'”
Reagan’s fear was based upon the fact that Loyal was an atheist. Davis once wrote, “I have never been able to subscribe to the divinity of Jesus Christ nor his virgin birth. I don’t believe in his resurrection, or a heaven or hell as places.”
Reagan, on the other hand, was a Christian and believed everyone would stand before God at the Day of Judgment. That is what led the most powerful man in the world to put aside the concerns of the nation and pick up a pen to write his father-in-law. (The actual letter and a transcript of it can be found here. It is a must read for any presidential and faith inquirer.)
Reagan was respectful but truthful and passionate: “Dear Loyal, I hope you’ll forgive me for this, but I’ve been wanting to write you ever since we talked on the phone. I’m aware of the strain you are under and believe with all my heart there is help for that. …”
Reagan went on to confess his own weaknesses and a physical struggle that led to his own faith in God, based upon many who had been praying daily for him.
The president then gave his defense for faith to his father-in-law:
Some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ the ancient Jewish prophets predicted the coming of a Messiah. They said he would be born in a lowly place, would proclaim himself the Son of God and would be put to death for saying that.
All in all there were a total of one hundred and twenty three specific prophecies about his life all of which came true. Crucifixion was unknown in those times, yet it was foretold that he would be nailed to a cross of wood. And one of the predictions was that he would be born of a Virgin.
…. But Loyal I don’t find that as great a miracle as the actual history of his life. Either he was who he said he was or he was the greatest faker & charlatan who ever lived. But would a liar & faker suffer the death he did when all he had to do to save himself was admit he’d been lying?
The miracle is that a young man of 30 yrs. without credentials as a scholar or priest began preaching on street corners. He owned nothing but the clothes on his back & he didn’t travel beyond a circle less than one hundred miles across. He did this for only 3 years and then was executed as a common criminal.
But for two thousand years he has … had more impact on the world than all the teachers, scientists, emperors, generals and admirals who ever lived, all put together.
Reagan then wrote out one of the most famous Bible verses, John 3:16, then followed it with the words: “We have been promised that all we have to do is ask God in Jesus name to help when we have done all we can – when we’ve come to the end of our strength and abilities and we’ll have that help. We only have to trust and have faith in his infinite goodness and mercy.”
He ended his letter with a few encouragements then signed it simply, “Love, Ronnie”
Did the letter have any impact? Nancy Reagan, who was with her father when he died, later claimed that Loyal did turn to God at the end of his life. One more proof that there are no atheists in foxholes.
I don’t have to tell my readers that President Reagan was an amazing man, leader, husband and father. And he was exactly that because at the core of his being and values was his Christian faith.
Michael Reagan, the president’s adopted son with his first wife, actress Jane Wyman, said he received many gifts from his father throughout his life, but there was one in particular that stood head and tail above the others.
At the 40th president’s sunset funeral, Michael described the greatest gift a child can receive:
I was so proud to have the Reagan name and to be Ronald Reagan’s son. What a great honor. He gave me a lot of gifts as a child – gave me a horse, gave me a car, gave me a lot of things. But there’s a gift he gave me that I think is wonderful for every father to give every son.
Last Saturday, when he opened his eyes for the last time … that’s when I realized the gift that he gave to me: that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He had – back in 1988 on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Point Mugu – told me about his love of God, his love of Christ as his Savior. I didn’t know then what it all meant. But I certainly, certainly know now.
I can’t think of a better gift for a father to give a son. And I hope to honor my father by giving my son, Cameron, and my daughter, Ashley, that very same gift he gave to me.
Knowing where he is this very moment, this very day, that he is in heaven, I can only promise my father this: Dad, when I go, I will go to heaven, too. And you and I and my sister, Maureen, who went before us, we will dance with the heavenly host of angels before the presence of God. We will do it melanoma-and Alzheimer’s-free. Thank you for letting me share my father, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Michael’s words about his father remind me of one of America’s popular founders, Patrick Henry, who captured the Revolutionary spirit with his speech, “Give me liberty or give me death!” On his death bed, Henry said to his physician: “Doctor, I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die. … I am, however, much consoled by reflecting that the religion of Christ has, from its first appearance in the world, been attacked in vain by all the wits, philosophers, and wise ones, aided by every power of man, and its triumphs have been complete.”
Henry left what he owned to be divided between his wife and six sons, but there was something of far greater value that mattered most to him to give them. Seven months before his death, on Nov. 20, 1798, he wrote in his Last Will and Testament: “This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.”