Memories of an increasingly distant past occasionally flutter through my mind. Some end up here: shotguns at football games, floods and rugs, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, etc. I think I once mentioned my meeting with President Carter and his wife outside the Governor’s entrance to the Georgia Capitol. Sweeter people were not to be found in Atlanta that afternoon.
As it happened I had, just the year before, met Reagan outside of D.C.
It was the warm summer of 2002. My then wife and I attended a Federalist Society leadership conference in Washington. I, despite my constant shunning of leadership, prepared to enter my second term as president of a Fed-Soc chapter.
Whatever else the Society may be or may have turned into, they hold pretty good conventions and even better parties. After a day of not-too-boring presentations, workshops, and speeches, the gathering removed from the urban center unto the genteel suburbs of Great Falls, Virginia.
The setting was the estate of then U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson. I had met Ted the previous fall and I genuinely liked him. His has been a distinguished career, fighting for causes important and sometimes improbable.
Life and the greater world are not always so kind. Ted’s wife, Barbara, was murdered less than a year before on September eleventh. Still, he stoically (and in good humor) hosted a gracious affair. I’ve described these get togethers before. Elegant and sophisticated, with a who’s who list of conservative political celebrities. And a few surprises from the opposition. Power subdued by manners and wine.
This event was more laid back than most – a backyard barbecue, in a palatial backyard. I drifted from group to group. A sub-feature of the conference was the grooming of third-year law students for prominence in the Society and the greater legal community. I assume it worked with some.
I really did have a marvelous time. The company was pleasant (though the Ivy Leaguers incessantly talked in circles of immaterial pondering), the food was excellent, beer was free, the grounds Masters-esque.
At some point I found myself in a conversation out back. If I remember rightly it was with Ken and Alice Starr and Ted himself. Suddenly, and without pretense, up swaggered Reagan. All attention immediately turned to him. Ted made the obligatory introduction.
Now, if you’re searching your historical memory, you are on to something. At the time President Ronald Reagan was convalescing at home in California (departing only two years later). A few years ago Olson recounted his time working for the former President. Mine was a slightly different Reagan, a namesake.
Not Reagan, per se, though a good approximation. Pet Breeds.
This Reagan was one of Barbara Olson’s two Australian Shepherds (the other being named after Lady Thatcher). You see, while I did not meet THE Ronald Reagan, I did meet Reagan the dog. And he essentially stole the whole party.
Extraordinarily intelligent breeds, like the Shepherds, when not working will automatically seek out the best available companions. Thus, he came to me.
He was by far the most interesting member present. I remember him as a slightly larger than normal Ozzy, slightly shaggy but well-groomed. He exuded the charm and thoughtful contemplation for which the breed is famous. We talked, uninterrupted, for several minutes. He was the last person I thanked before leaving that evening.
I never did meet Barbara. Reading one of her books and watching her on television was the closest I ever came. Her taste in canine friends was impeccable. Through Reagan, Ted maintained a happy link to the past. Dogs are wonderful in that regard.
So it is that I recall my last substantive visit to fallen D.C. The failed chief city of the Old Republic held, at the time, an eerie sense of foreboding. It all makes sense now. And it is all okay, I suppose, all because I at least met Reagan.