Ronald Reagan is one of the most winsome men I have ever known. Our long friendship really started one day in 1953, when I was playing golf in Phoenix. Mrs. Loyal Davis, wife of a prominent Chicago surgeon, came up to me on the course.
“I want you to get to know my new son-in-law,” she said.
I asked who he was.
“You mean the film star?”
She confirmed that he had married her daughter, Nancy, some months before.
Ron (as most of his friends called him) and I actually met later that year in Dallas.
In the next two decades, my travels took me to California with some frequency, and often our paths crossed. As our friendship grew, I not only admired his quick wit and warm personality, but I also came to respect his keen insight and tough-minded approach to broad political issues. I also found him very interested in our work, even giving me friendly advice from time to time.
During the years before Ron was elected to public office, I had often detected a spiritual side to him. For example, I remember once when I gave a small dinner party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and invited him. He brought up the subject of the Second Coming of Christ. The same subject came up with him on other occasions as well.
I have been told that where he grew up, in Dixon, Illinois, he did some preaching himself in his late teens. At the time, he was a member of the Christian Church, which was somewhat like the Baptist Church. I kept forgetting to ask him about it, however, something that I now regret.
During the eight years of Reagan’s presidential administration, we saw each other a number of times. I especially appreciated his kindness in inviting Ruth and me to several states dinners for visiting foreign leaders.
One night while I was staying at the White House, Nancy and the President got into a discussion about the question of salvation–who was going to be saved and who was going to be lost. He gave her his views on conversion and the new birth right out of the Bible. She turned to me.
“Billy, is that right?”
I said it was and expanded a little further.
While he was president, Ronald Reagan bestowed on me one of the highest honors I could ever imagine. On February 23, 1983, he presented me with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor our government gives to an American, for service to the nation. I felt unworthy of the honor, and still do. But whatever else it means, it will always remind me of the generosity and friendship of a remarkable man and a warm and enduring personal friend, Ronald Wilson Reagan.