Friday, February 25, 2011

My Dad and The Gipper

This month marks the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan  and I can't help but bring to mind my Dad's almost mystical connection to the great communicator.


The two great men had remarkable parallels in their lives. Both were born in 1911, only 37 days apart.


Both  came from humble homes where their fathers struggled as salesmen, Reagan's father Jack selling shoes in Dixon, Illinois, and my dad's father, also named Jack, selling automobiles in a little town called Oswego, New York.


Ronald Reagan spent his teenage years as a champion swimmer establishing his beautiful swimming stroke in the currents of the Rock River.  My father swam the  frigid waters of Lake Ontario in upstate New York, later establishing the never broken record for total distance swimming for the City of Cleveland.


Both men lamented being a 'tweener, that is,  too young to serve  in World War I but  too old to join up for World War II.  Reagan used his  acting skills to promote the sale of war bonds as his contribution. My father joined the War Department as a lawyer and became the man responsible for acquiring the real estate needed to build a little structure called the Pentagon, constructed in record time in the middle of a war, to this very day the  largest office building in the world.


Dutch Reagan  and Jack Lynch were both enthusiastic young Democrats who idolized Franklin  Roosevelt. Later in life, both men became Republicans, disenchanted with the movement of the Democratic Party to the left.


It was no surprise as my parents closely followed the political ascendance of Ronald Reagan through the years, closely identifying with the patriotic principals that became a hallmark of the Reagan era.


Fate eventually caused Dad to rub elbows very briefly with the man who would be our 40th president. In  1976,   Ronald Reagan had the temerity to challenge Gerald Ford, a sitting president, for the Republican nomination. Bob Hughes, chairman of the local Republican Party, called our home to ask a favor.


 Ronald Reagan would be in Cleveland for a day. None of the local Republicans wanted to offend President Ford. Hughes asked if Mom or Dad could  drive the upstart Reagan around Northeast Ohio attempting to muster  support in the Buckeye state. My dad had to leave for court after saying hello to Governor Reagan so my mother spent the day driving the future president from place to place in my dad's maroon Lincoln Continental.


            Imagine Jack Lynch's disappointment when his alter ego lost the nomination to Ford in the last real convention fight in American history. The 1980 victory that followed four years later brought a tear to his eye.


            Both men reveled in their Irish ancestry. Tip O'neil, then House speaker, called Reagan the greatest Irish American in history. Jack Lynch, despite his many achievements, was most proud to be known as the only man  twice selected Irishman of the Year at the downtown St. Patrick's Day parade.



Perhaps the similarity I remember most is the unseverable bond both men had with their  spouses. Those of you who remember Nancy Reagan gazing adoringly at her beloved Ronnie as he stood on a podium  saw the same worship that made my mother's tender, sweet love for my father an ambitious standard  that few  relationships achieve.  Reagan's alzheimer's  in his last years didn't dampen Nancy's love and I was on hand to personally observe Jackie Lynch's dedication to her one and only Jack to her very end.


After mom passed away, Dad lasted only a couple more years, seemingly counting down the days when he could join his long-lost love in heaven.


After Dad left this world  in the springtime(just like Reagan), a faded photograph of the President remained on their mantle with a hand written note:  Dear Jack and Jackie, thanks for all your help, (signed) Ronald Reagan.


Dad and  President Reagan may not of been part of the Greatest Generation, but the two of them were a rare breed indeed.


So here's to the 100th birthday of the Gipper, Ronald Wilson Reagan, and John Kennedy Lynch.  Irish eyes are smilin'.

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