When I heard that Nancy Reagan had died over the weekend, I thought back to the time I photographed her with President Reagan on the South Lawn of the White House.
We were living in the D.C. area back then, and one of my girlfriends was dating a Secret Service agent. She called one night and asked if we’d like to see the White House and watch Ronald and Nancy Reagan take off from the South Lawn. Reagan was due to give the commencement address at Notre Dame University that day. See a president in person? Sure! We had no idea how much we’d see, but it turned out to be a lot.
What’s crazy to me now is that we saw the Reagans just two months after the attempted assassination by John Hinckley Jr. All we had to do was provide our Social Security numbers to the Secret Service a week before we were to go.
When we got to the White House, we didn’t even have to go through metal detectors, and no one looked inside my purse. I also had a large-ish Nikon camera and no one cared.
What was really cool: we got to see the Secret Service room and they let us wander all over the ground floor. The upstairs was off-limits because the First Family was in residence. We got to see the Oval Office, of course, and all the other open rooms on that floor. My indoor pics didn’t turn out because I didn’t bring my flash–thought that might create problems.
Here is one lousy photo of the Blue Room:
I was pretty new to photography then and was using film, probably with an ISO of 100. Great for a sunny day, but terrible inside. And to tell you the truth, I was kind of in a daze. To just wander around the White House with no escort was pretty amazing.
Just as I was about to photograph the Oval Office, one of the agents came and told us the Reagans were about to depart. We rushed out the back door and stood where we were told. Luckily, the woman directly in front of me wasn’t that tall, so I could take some decent shots.
That’s the press corps and guests across from us. It’s funny now to think of me taking pictures of the press. Some photographer probably has pictures of us.
The man facing us is James Baker III, Reagan’s Chief of Staff, and later Secretary of the Treasury. The bald man second from the right is Michael Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff. I don’t recognize any of the others.
And suddenly, the Reagans appeared. Everyone cheered as soon as they saw the President.
No matter what your political persuasion is, it’s pretty exciting to see a world leader. I’m kind of amazed that I was able to take photos at all.
I was struck by how healthy and relaxed the President looked. Especially after being nearly killed two months before. I also noticed that Nancy appeared very nervous, understandably. Reagan wanted to smile and shake hands, but she kept edging him towards the helicopter.
Call me crazy, but I could swear he was looking at me in the photo above. 🙂
It all happened so fast. One minute they were smiling and posing, then boarding the helicopter.
And they were off. That’s the Washington Monument on the left with the Jefferson Memorial in the center. Most likely a Secret Service agent in the foreground.
So many years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
Hope your week’s going well so far.