March 16, 2016: I Remember Ronald Reagan & A Different World

~by Susi Pittman

It was 1968 and most all families ate dinner together…it was expected…imagine that. And many times, families watched the 6 O’clock News together, sharing opinions and learning about world events together. We were connected. But, there had been a brewing storm on the American horizon, one that harkened to a darker day in our history.

America was in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, inflation was threatening what had been the boom years of the 1960’s. The small Viet Nam war in Indo-China had been good business for America. And then came the 1968 Tet Offensive by the Viet Cong. The images of those news reels in 1967 and 1968 of our American military, the young faces and the horror of war came into our living rooms in unedited grandeur. I will never forget those images.

In those moments spent with my family watching the news, I took to heart much of what my father spoke about. He was a patriot, a Republican and a conservative and he had a great mathematical mind. He had the ability to take some of the most extraordinary detailed and concentrated numbers and relay their meaning to you in common terms. He understood economics.

1968 was an Election year. The big three candidates were Richard Nixon, Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Governor Ronald Reagan. Richard Nixon served two terms as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Vice President and then ran for the Presidency against a young Democratic Senator named John F. Kennedy only to lose. Governor Rockefeller was the son of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller and Nelson had worked in business and government becoming Governor of New York in 1958. Governor Reagan was in the first of his two terms as governor of California.

It was Ronald Reagan that my father spoke so highly of. He talked about his sincerity and economic mind and how he truly had America’s values at heart. He scoffed at the media who hyped the “Hollywood actor” adage, and I can remember Dad’s words then; It doesn’t always have to be a politician in the Presidency, sometimes the house needs cleaning.

This set the tone for me as the 1968 Republican National Convention arrived in Miami Beach. I told Dad that I was going over to the Deauville Hotel to work for Ronald Reagan and to see if they could use me as a “sign holder.” He smiled and said, Suzu, you’re a good girl. I dressed in a nice dress, hopped in my 1967 VW Beetle and drove to the hotel. Upon arriving, I met Maureen Reagan, Ronald’s daughter by actress Jane Wyman, and I was star-struck. She was an exuberant, level-headed young woman who made you feel immediately welcomed. She sized me up and said; Hi Susan, we need you as a First Youth for Reagan, are you ready to work? I was electrified and ready!

She took me into the delegate Welcome Reception Room and introduced me to a woman named Elizabeth who then gave me my on-the-job instructions. As delegates would arrive, I was to “welcome” them and present them a lovely California gift basket filled with California goodies from figs and almonds to wine, festively wrapped in silk ribbons. (I found out later that it was my smile that won me the job). No “sign holder” work, but, I worked between the Welcome Room and the hub which was where all the signs were being stapled and leaflets were being boxed. I was able to attend the Convention and rally with all the Reagan insiders. I hated to leave and go home at the end of the day.

Each night I would tell my father about all the goings on. How I met John Wayne and his suite was just across the hall from Governor Reagan’s…and how Maureen introduced me to Sammy Davis Jr…and how so many of the delegates were amazing and important people. I ran messages between Reagan convention workers…shared a photo op with Governor Reagan’s son Michael for the Miami Herald.

It was the next to the last day when I met Governor Reagan. He and Nancy had come down from their 16th floor suite and were headed to the Convention Center. I was right next to him when he stepped out of the elevator. At 18 years of age, he was bigger than life and so very real. He made eye contact with each of us there and said; Thank you all for your hard work. Nancy and I know how you all are sacrificing your time and efforts to support this campaign. We are here because of the efforts of so many and we are grateful. And then I just remember him smiling at each of us. He took the time to let us know he saw us and embraced us. It wasn’t superficial, it wasn’t the quick courtesy glance. It has remained as an example to me of what real sincerity looks like and feels like.

In the end, Richard Nixon won the nomination and we, The First Youth for Reagan were heartbroken. Fourty-eight years later I still have my First Youth for Reagan ribbon, a few campaign buttons and a bent up Reagan campaign sign, A Proven Winner. Three weeks after the Convention, I received a thank you letter from Governor Reagan on his State letterhead, thanking me for all that I did. It rests in a wooden frame, the paper yellowed from time, but is one of my treasures.

It was my first introduction into the politics of this great country. It was the best introduction one could have had. I had indeed supported a good man, one that did go on to being a two-term President of the United States and one whom my father had prophesized would have the plan to bring not only American economics back to greatness, but honor and the value of truthful words back to the Office.

The link below is an article from the Pittsburg Press on the 1968 Republican Convention

Reagan’s Role: A Good Loser


Susi Pittman is founder of and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference;
a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.



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