The Digital Journalist
Remembering Ronald Reagan
July 2004

by Dennis Brack

The other day I was sitting in "Camera 2" on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, waiting for Air Force One to land and for President Bush to motorcade to the Capitol Rotunda to pay his last respects to President Reagan. The young person in charge of the pool turned to make conversation and asked one photographer how long he'd been covering the White House. Oh, three years, the first photographer replied; nine years, said the next photographer, and then he came to me. Forty years, I said softly, and that was the end of that question-and-answer session.

I've watched presidential administrations just as the photographers before me did and, no doubt, photographers after me will. I've found that each president brings a feel, a style, some hard-to-describe quality to the White House that affects everyone around them -- lots of feelings: combativeness, trust, incompetence, friendship are just a few of the feelings. I haven't found the right word for President Reagan's years, but there was something about him that made life cheerful and comfortable. Not a bad atmosphere when you have covered presidents who have made your life just plain miserable. Some presidents attract incompetent people to handle advance and photographers -- not President Reagan. The Reagan advance team were just great people who listened and had good ideas.

One of the factors that created this cheerful and, yes, loving feeling was Nancy Reagan. Those times when the Reagans would go their separate ways on the campaign were times when we saw that love. I've witnessed many presidents and their wives embracing, but the Reagans' partings were not solely for the cameras. Nancy was a wonderful story. I never will forget the evening of President Reagan's first inauguration and the Reagans were going to their first inaugural ball. The pool, which consisted of eight photographers who had covered the campaign from the beginning, was waiting by the limo at the White House South Lawn door. Nancy came out and she was just stunning. As the strobes flashed, all of us were saying, "Wow! You look great!" Nancy stopped and looked at us in sort of a humble way and said, "Come on boys, it's only me."

© Dennis Brack