Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Ronald Wilson Reagan Remembered
Aired June 6, 2004 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: As a boy, I saw streets filled with Model T's. As a man, I have met men who have walked on the moon. I have not only seen but lived the marvels of what historians have called the American century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, as the world mourns the death of Ronald Reagan, his friends, his cabinet members and his fellow players on the world stage share personal memories and stories maybe you haven't heard about the leader and the man who was America's 40th president.
With us tonight is George Schultz, Reagan's secretary of state; Ed Meese, Reagan's attorney general and before that his counselor; Senator Elizabeth Dole, transportation secretary under Reagan; David Gergen, Reagan's communications director; Hugh Sidey, who has written "Time" magazine's "The Presidency" column since 1966; and the Right Honorable Brian Mulroney, Canadian prime minister during Reagan's presidency and a close friend of the late president.
Remembering Ronald Reagan, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We have a distinguished panel joining us on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE as we approach an incredible week ahead of the movement of the body of Ronald Reagan from Los Angeles to Washington and back to Los Angeles, winding up with the interment at the museum site in California on Friday, early evening, a sunset interment.
Let's get around the robin going with our panel. George Schultz, what was the most, in your mind, remarkable thing about him?
GEORGE SCHULTZ, FMR. U.S. SECY. OF STATE: His capability to take ideas that he had thought through and believed in and turn them in to practical reality. He did that in economics. He did that in foreign policy. He did that in arms control. He did that across the board and he changed the national and international agenda in the process.
KING: David Gergen, what strikes you?
DAVID GERGEN, FMR. COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: His leadership, Larry, inspiring us to believe in ourselves again and in our future. In the '60s and '70s there were many Americans who thought we had lost our way, that we thought the past had been better than today and tomorrow would be worse still. That was not the Ronald Reagan -- that was not the America Reagan knew and loved and believed in. And he helped to convince us once again that our best days are still ahead if we can remain united, stay firm with our principles and remember our past.
KING: Ed Meese, the first thought as you remember your friend and president?
ED MEESE, FMR. ATTNY. GEN.: I think it was his optimism and his cheerfulness.
I can't remember Ronald Reagan having a down day. He always felt that things were going to get better. And actually he did a lot to make them better. But actually that really did, as David said, inspire the American people, that and his sense of patriotism.
He had studied the Founding Fathers. He knew his Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and it was these personal characteristics, I think, that endeared him to so many people in this country.
KING: Hugh Sidey, we have an advanced copy of "Time's" commemorative issue, which will be out everywhere tomorrow, with this very familiar cover of Ronald Reagan.
What strikes you most -- you were with us last night -- as you reflect now with a day gone by since his death?
HUGH SIDEY, "TIME": Well, as a matter of fact, Larry, you know, it just impresses itself on me that the American dream is still there. I mean, this is a fellow out of Dixon, Illinois, or Tampico, Illinois, who went all the way and made it work.
I still remember being in London once when he was president, when some British fellow came up and said, "I say there, Mr. Sidey, but your last president was a peanut farmer and then he dove a nuclear submarine, and this one is an old sportscaster and a grade B movie actor. Where do you get those chaps?"
Well, we get them out of America, and that's the wonderful thing about it. And he came up and he made it work, all the way.
KING: And Elizabeth Dole, what are your memories as a cabinet member and friend?
SEN. ELIZABETH DOLE, (R-NC): Well, you know, when I think about the president, I think about freedom. Hundreds of millions of people are free today because of Ronald Reagan and his policies.
But I also think of the gentleman, always so courteous, great respect for any person who was in his presence. And, you know, when I was assistant to the president for public liaison, I took scores of people into the Oval Office, into the cabinet room, and sometimes there'd be a person who would say, "Well, I've just got to give him a piece of my mind."
Well, they'd come out of the meeting and almost the moment they would see him, any bit of anger would melt away and, of course, he would make his views known. He would speak to their concerns. He would share a little humor with them, a good story, maybe he'd even pass the jellybeans around, and they were ready to climb any mountain for Ronald Reagan by the time they left that meeting with him.
KING: Secretary Schultz, I understand you've spoken with Nancy Reagan. Can you tell us her mood?
SCHULTZ: I have spoken with her, but not since he died, but I'm sure that her mood is one of pride, of course, in Ronald Reagan and his achievements and great enduring love, protecting his legacy, and seeing to it that things are done in a dignified fashion.
KING: I'm sorry. Go ahead.
SCHULTZ: You said you had Brian Mulroney on this show, and one of the things about his foreign policy that isn't remarked on very much but which was very important, in my opinion, he believed that foreign policy should start in your neighborhood.
Just as where you live, if your neighborhood is good, that's good for you. So he paid a great deal of attention to Canada, to Mexico, to the Caribbean, to Central America, to Latin America, because he figured this is our neighborhood, this is where we live, and if conditions are healthy in these places, it's going to be good for us.
So I think it's not an accident that he should have formed such a great friendship with Brian Mulroney.
KING: We will take a break -- well said -- and come back. Brian Mulroney will be joining us. We'll continue for the hour with this outstanding panel on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: I've spoken of the shining city all of my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall, proud city, built on rock, stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that, after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands tall and true on the granite ridge and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. (END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're going to spend a few moments with Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister of Canada, joining us from Montreal.
You remember that evening -- Brian.
BRIAN MULRONEY, FMR. CANADIAN PRIME MIN.: I do indeed, Larry. St. Patrick's Day 1985. The Shamrock Summit in Quebec City, just in shouting distance of where the Irish first landed, those coming to Canada, first landed in Canada in the early 1830's. So I remember it well. It was quite a night.
How close were the two of you?
MULRONEY: Well, we had a wonderful relationship. George Schultz, I gather, is with you, and he could testify to the fact, of course, that President Reagan was a gentleman, a great gentleman, and he made it very easy for new leaders.
I came on the block four years after he had been sworn in, had been inaugurated, and he made it -- it was a piece of cake, to be welcomed and to work with him very closely, both on bilateral matters, the hemispheric free trade concept, the Canada-United States free trade concept, but also internationally with that tremendous agenda we had in those years.
The Soviet Union, with nuclear missiles pointed at us, and the work in NATO and so on, it was -- he made it easy to work with him.
KING: Have you spoken with Mrs. Reagan -- Brian.
MULRONEY: Yes, Nancy and I, we speak regularly and have over the years, and as it happened, yesterday I spoke with Nancy. I called Nancy because I had heard, of course, that things weren't going well, and it was -- Nancy indicated that things were pretty tough and indeed after I hung up, Larry, within half-an-hour President Reagan had passed on.
KING: I would guess you'll be attending his funeral in Washington on Friday. Are you going to come out for the burial, too, in California?
MULRONEY: We're certainly going to be in Washington for the funeral.
KING: But you don't know about California yet?
MULRONEY: I don't know about the rest of the program yet. All I've heard is about Washington.
KING: What was his special quality, from your viewpoint?
MULRONEY: Well, you know, Larry, in leaders I think there are basically two kinds. You can be a transactional leader or you can be a transformation leader, and Ronald Reagan was the epitome of a transformation leader, someone who profoundly changed this country and changed the world for the better.
And what was most surprising was that he was able to do this, to make history in an extraordinary way, and yet retain that simplicity and charm and almost in some ways a sense of quiet Irish innocence about the manner in which he conducted himself with other people.
So you had this very powerful leader who conducted the foreign policy and the national policy of the United States of America, and on the other hand you had this gentle, thoughtful, warm and very entertaining human being who was the person you dealt with. I think that was his great charm and the reason for his great success.
KING: Did he exceed your expectations?
MULRONEY: You know, I think probably Ronald Reagan may have exceeded everyone's expectations except Nancy's. Nancy probably was the only one who knew the great things of which he was capable from the earliest years.
But for the rest of us, unless there are exceptions of whom I'm unaware, for the rest of us he was a delight to work with who just kept getting better.
KING: Thank you for sharing this with us, Brian. Great seeing you again, by the way.
MULRONEY: Good to see you, Larry. Thank you for having me and delighted to be with you.
KING: My pleasure. Good guy. Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister of Great Britain (sic).
David, did he exceed your expectations -- David Gergen.
GERGEN: Yes, he did, Larry. I was among those who had been working for President Ford when Governor Reagan ran against him in 1976 and I had signed up for the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1980 and, of course, many on the more moderate side of the Republican Party did not understand Ronald Reagan and I think many Democrats, in particular, didn't understand his power.
You know, as was coming to Washington, Clark Clifford (ph) of "The Democrat" told people in Georgetown salons that he's an amiable dunce. And nobody thought he could govern. And lo and behold he came into a presidency which no one had governed successfully. Hugh Sidey knows this so well. We had five presidents in a row who had left office in death, in defeat or in disgrace, and nobody thought Reagan could possibly turn that around, and within just a few months, everybody knew we had a leader again in the White House. We had someone who united us, who did have firm principles.
He had a very clear vision of what the country should be and he rallied people behind that.
KING: Ed Meese, you knew him, of course, from the California days, so what did you know, Ed, that the rest of us didn't?
MEESE: Well, one of the things, of course, was that since Ronald Reagan surprised us all almost everyday. He was smarter than any of us, and so I had the fortunate experience to see him for a long period of time.
So when he became president, I had great confidence that he was not only up to the job but would, again, exceed any expectations and be very successful.
He had a self-confidence, but it didn't have any arrogance or pretention or pride to it, and he was -- he felt confident that he could do the job, but he did it in a very humble and very sincere way, and I think that was his secret. He always -- he relished being underestimated.
You remember, he had that great line at the correspondents dinner, where he said, you know, everybody -- the press had talked about the fact that he didn't work very hard, and he said, "You know, they say that work never killed anybody, but I say why take a chance." That was part of his humor.
KING: I'm sorry, George, go ahead.
SCHULTZ: He also had a sign on his desk that he paid attention to, but he had it there for everybody else to see, that said something like there's no limit to what a man can accomplish if he doesn't care who gets the credit.
KING: Senator Dole, he was not a hands-on president, though, was he? He didn't call the Transportation Department every day to see what you were doing.
DOLE: He was not a micromanager, but he was certainly a strong supporter of what we were doing.
For example, he wanted privatization. He wanted certain functions in federal government to be done in the private sector because they could be done better there. He believed in federalism, that certain functions were better done at the state and local level.
And so when we went into the process of selling the government's freight railroad, Conrail, it took us three years. We, with his strong support, got it into the private sector. National Airport, which is now named for him, was moved out of the federal government, off the federal dole, if I may say so, and into a regional authority where revenue bonds would provide the funding to build that beautiful new airport. And so, you know, obviously, he was a strong supporter of safety initiatives. In fact, while he was for deregulation, for less regulation on our businesses so that they could grow and thrive and create more jobs and expand, at the same time he understood that there was a necessity for more regulation, where safety is concerned in certain instances, and so he backed me up on the safety initiatives, and it was a joy to work with him because he was a man of such strong principle.
KING: Hugh Sidey, what about the critique that he was programmed, that he had his little 3 x 5 cards with things written on them for him to say and that the staff ran a lot of it?
SIDEY: Well, look, that happens to us all, Larry, come on now. There are signs, there are cards, there is all that sort of thing that we do. It didn't bother me a bit. Everybody that I've known has used a teleprompter or one of those.
But in the overall, the sense of where he was going and what he wanted to say, nobody programmed him. The fact of the matter is the basic speeches he wrote or at least the ideas came out of what he had written before, and so if he had a moment in this terrible cauldron of the White House where you needed to be reminded where you were, and everybody goes through that, every president goes through that, that's unimportant.
KING: We'll take a break and come back with more on this -- we'll pick right up with our panel and have everybody jump in right after this.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: The importance of this treaty transcends numbers. We have listened to the wisdom in an old Russian maxim, and I'm sure you're familiar with it, though my pronunciation may give you difficulty, the maxim is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), trust but verify.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You repeat that at every meeting.
REAGAN: I like it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The late Bill Casey told me once at a lunch, if Ronald Reagan has one fault, it's an inability to dress people down. He doesn't fire people well, he can't knock someone down well when they deserve it. Was he right?
REAGAN: Well, I guess there was some right in that. Yes. It is difficult for me to fire someone or to be mean to them in any way. KING: I mean, you had to do it.
KING: But he thought you never liked it.
KING: Some presidents enjoy it.
REAGAN: No. Not me.
KING: And you also don't bear grudges, do you? You seem not to have a meanness.
REAGAN: Well, thank you.
KING: Let's take, like, Donald Regan. You don't seem to have animosity towards him. Your wife has more.
REAGAN: Well, that's in my behalf. She feels a little bit about the same way you are in asking these things and saying these things, but she sometimes things that someone is taking advantage of me, and that fires her up more than if they were taking advantage of her.
KING: But it doesn't fire you up?
REAGAN: Well, sometimes I've had the staff tell me they know I'm upset when I throw my glasses.
KING: You've thrown -- I can't picture that.
REAGAN: Yes, well, sitting at the desk and throwing them across the desk, the reading glasses, and so forth.
KING: Your danger does get up.
REAGAN: Oh, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: David Gergen, did you ever see him angry?
REAGAN: I've occasionally seen him angry, but I must tell you always he treated people with enormous graciousness and friendliness. But I don't thin we should forget, Larry, that he, underneath this, he was a man of steel.
I think we saw that very early in his presidency with the air traffic controllers strike. When they went out on strike and he basically said, if you work for the public, you have no right to go on strike against the public, and if you're not back here by noon tomorrow, you're fired. He came down hard on that, he made it stick, and I think it sent a message to the country as well as to public employees that, by golly, here is a tough, tough leader. And I think that's one of the reasons that the hostages in Iran were freed the day he was inaugurated. You know, they had been held for over 400 days, and Secretary Schultz knows so well that because Reagan communicated strength and strength to principle, people respected him and respected America for it.
KING: Do you agree -- George.
SCHULTZ: I certainly do, but I'd like to go back to the earlier conversation that had to do with what he brought with him when he came to Washington.
I remember an evening at my home on the Stanford campus where we had a dinner for him and the people who came were Milton and Rose Friedman, Bill Simon, Alan Greenspan, Martin and Annelise Anderson, Mike Boskin (ph), maybe some others. At any rate, after dinner we sat around in a circle for about an hour-and-a-half or so, and he was at the center of it and everybody was challenging him and asking him questions and testing him out. And he came through sensationally.
And I remember afterwards saying to my wife, you know, this guy is good. He really understands these ideas that we're talking about. And so he brings that fundamental view, and that's one reason why he was so steadfast.
KING: Liddy Dole, Nancy Reagan -- and Liddy has to leave us, by the way, so this will be the last question for you. Nancy Reagan writing in the current time in an essay says, "He had absolutely no ego, very comfortable in his own skin. Didn't feel he ever had to prove anything."
Would you agree that he had no ego -- Senator Dole.
DOLE: I think he was a person of genuine modesty, humility. I think he had such a confidence, he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he came into the presidency. He did it with great passion, with an eloquence almost no one in our history has matched. And, you know, he was just so sure of himself, but he was also a modest person and a humble person.
And I can remember at the time that I was leaving the cabinet after five years as secretary of transportation, and he wanted to have a farewell function, and we discussed the fact that it would be nice to have some people come to that function who would not be able to meet the president.
And he said, "Elizabeth, invite those that you would like."
And there was a young woman in Arkansas, and her great desire was to meet the president, and she was a part of the Make a Wish group with a terminal illness. And I can still see that young woman and the way he handled with such compassion and care his conversation with her, there in the Roosevelt Room, and a young man from my hometown who, in a wheelchair, had to wear a helmet so that if he happened to fall he wouldn't be severely injured, his mother and uncle brought him tenderly, carefully, to Washington to fulfill his dream to meet President Reagan.
He was a man of tremendous compassion and I will always remember that farewell party and how much it meant to them and to me.
KING: Thank you, Elizabeth. Thanks for joining us for the half- hour. We appreciate it.
DOLE: Thank you -- Larry.
KING: When we come back, George Schultz, Ed Meese, David Gergen and Hugh Sidey will remain on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: So, George, I'm in your corner. I'm ready to volunteer.
R. REAGAN: ...I'm ready to volunteer a little advice now and then and offer a pointer or two on strategy, if asked. I'll help keep the fact straight, or just stand back and cheer. But George, just one personal request, go out there and win one for the Gipper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
R. REAGAN: In my life's journey over these past 8 decades, I have seen the human race through a period of unparralled tumult and triumph. I have seen the birth of communism and the death of communism.
R. REAGAN: I have witnessed, I have witnessed the bloody futility of 2 World Wars and Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. I have seen Germany united, divided and united again. I have seen television grow from a parlor novalty to the most powerful vehicle of communication in history.
As as boy, I saw streets filled with Model Ts. As a man, I have met men who walked on the moon.
I have not only seen, but lived the marvels of what historians have called the American Century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Sidey, I'm a littel confused, did he or did he not like sentimentality, because you write, that he used to relate to George Bush and other not to choke up in speeches, don't be emotional. In fact he said, practice it over and over so you retain a personal feeling about it and don't choke up. And yet, didn't like to bring emotion?
SIDEY: Well, I think so, but George Bush came back -- or watched him at D-Day, 40th anniversary and say how do you do it without crying? You know, these speeches with these old veterans there. He said, here's what I do: I write it out, they're my words, and then I repeat it over and over and over until I know it absolutely. And he said, I'm awed, still, when I get up in front, but I can get through it then, it isn't that much of a shock.
So George Bush tried it and apparently did work for him. It was just one of his devices. As you know, he used to gargle with hot water before he gave a speech or went on television, didn't he Ed?
MEESE: That's right.
SIDEY: He did that sort of thing. He had a lot of little gimmicks that got him through this time. And I always remember, it's an old saw, but I said, you know, you give these speeches, what's the theory? And he said, well, you tell them -- you tell them what you're going to tell them, and then you tell them it, and then you tell them what you had told them. And that was the way he implanted his message in the mind of American and it seemed to work.
KING: Ed Meese, how did he swing it with Gorbachev? This kind of hawk who brough about the end of Communism, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, how did he do that?
MEESE: Well basically, he had always wanted to engage in what he though of as personal diplomacy, that is, face to face discussions with the Soviet leaders. He said that from the first day he took office, that he wanted to sit down with them to dissabuse them of any distress they had about American intentions and to try to find some basis where they could work together to relieve tensions and to work for peace.
And, as you know, it wasn't possibly initially, because he had to build up Americas defense capabilities so he would be negotiating from a position of strength. And then when he was ready, the Soviet leaders kept dying one by one before he could meet with them.
And it was finally 1985 George Shultz will remember in Geneva in 1985 and Ronald Reagan had the opportunity to take Gorbachev aside. They had gone through the formal part of the summit meeting. He took Gorbachev by the arm, led him outside to a little boat house there. The 2 men talked for nearly 2 hours. And in the course of that, they started to develop respect for eachother, which then broadened into friendship.
And as they were ending that meeting, Ronald Reagan said, we ought to continue these meetings. And I'd like you to see my country. And Gorbachev said, I'd like you to see mine. And he said, OK, why don't this? Our next summit will be in Washington and the one after that, I'll go to Moscow?
And Gorbachev said, it's a deal, or whatever he would say that in Russian. And when they walked back, they astounded everyone, because they had already planned the next 2 summits. And that was the start of a historic relationship.
KING: George Schultz, did they also genuinely like eachother?
SHULTZ: Well I think they did. They enjoyed eachother. They were very different kinds of personalities, but they had mutual respect. And of course, if you're dealing with somebody, you want to know whether that person can deliver on a commitment that that person makes.
So as they were feeling eachother out and getting to know eachother, I'm sure that was one of the things Ronald Reagan was sizing up, could Gorbachev deliver the goods?
KING: I'll take a break. And when we come back, I want to ask David Gergen about history and Ronald Reagan. The current president George Bush, when asked about history recently said, it doesn't matter, we're all going to be dead. What will history say about Ronald Reagan. Back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: You still think you're in an evil empire, Mr. President?
R. REAGAN: No.
QUESTION: Why not?
R. REAGAN: I was talking about another time, another era.
General Secretary, I think you understand, we're not just grateful to both you and Mrs. Gorbachev, but want you to know, we think of you as friends. And in that spirit, we would ask one further favor of you, tell the people of the Soviet Union, of the deep feelings of friendship felt by us and by the people of our country towards them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I was there that night. Third man in the picture was Marvin Heimlish (ph).
David Gergen, what is history going to say?
GERGEN: Well, Larry, I think history will be kind to Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan, it's important to remember, did like history. He wanted people to remember history. He said in his farewell address, if we forget what we did, we will forget who we are. And that was very important to him. How will people remember him? I think people will remember him as a courageous, gallant and fundamentally decent man, who expanded freedom, both here and overseas, who rebuilt trust in the American presidency, and who restored America's faith in the future.
Whether you agree or disagree with his policies, and I was sometimes in disagreement, I hope historians will one day say, they will agree, he was the best leader we've had in the White House since Franklin Roosevelt.
KING: Will he make the top 10, George Schultz?
SCHULTZ: I think so, and I think David expressed it very well. But can I go back to the earlier discussion we were having about negotiations with the Soviets for a minute?
KING: Sure. We only -- we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) time, so.
SCHULTZ: Well, there is sort of the idea that it all started with Gorbachev. But Larry, did you know that the first deal we made, that Ronald Reagan made with the Soviets was in early 1983, and it was a human rights deal? Did you know that?
KING: Did not know that.
SCHULTZ: Well, OK, here's what happened. I brought Ambassador Brinin (ph) over to the family (ph) corridors of the White House, at the president's request. He said, it will just take five minutes. I want to tell him that if his new leader, Andropov, is ready for a constructive dialogue, I am.
Well, the meeting went on for over an hour. And we talked about the full range of issues, and President Reagan came down very hard on human rights. And he pointed to the plight of Pentecostals, who would come into our embassy in Jimmy Carter's time, and were still there, and how ridiculous that was.
So we had a lot of negotiations back and forth, and President Reagan kept saying, look, all I want to do is give them a chance to emigrate, to get them out. And I won't say a word about it. Well, finally, they did. They were immigrated some 60 families, as well as the ones in the embassy. And the deal was, we let them out if you don't crow. And Ronald Reagan never said a word.
So I always felt that had some real meaning, because the Soviets must have said to themselves, number one, the man really cares about human rights. It isn't just a political issue. And number two, think of how tempting it was for a president to crow, and he didn't. So you can take him at his word. If he says he won't crow, he won't crow. You can believe him.
KING: Great story. We'll have all of our guests back on in subsequent nights. We thank them all. David Gergen, Hugh Sidey, Ed Meese and George Schultz, and earlier, Senator Elizabeth Dole.
When we come back, we'll have our remaining moments with Dr. Ron Petersen, a neurologist who diagnosed and treated the former president for Alzheimer's. He's director of the Mayo Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. And Jeanne Phillips, the nationally syndicated "Dear Abby" columnist, whose mother has Alzheimer's. Stay tuned for that. We'll be right back.
KING: Joining us here in New York is Dr. Ron Petersen, neurologist, the Mayo Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, he's its director. And in Los Angeles, Jeanne Phillips. You know her as Dear Abby. Her mother, the original Dear Abby, the founder of the Dear Abby Column has Alzheimer's. And Dr. Peterson diagnosed and treated the former president and also treats the original Dear Abby.
Did you first diagnose the president with Alzheimer's?
DR. RON PETERSEN, DIR MAY ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE RESEARCH CENTER: That's correct.
KING: That was at a Mayo check up?
PETERSEN: At the Mayo Clinic in 1994.
KING: How do you diagnose it? Was it a blood test?
PETERSEN: Well it -- no, it's still a clinical diagnose it, Larry, so that we take a history from the president, from Mrs. Reagan, from other people who were involved and we try to come to a conclusion that there's been deterioration in memory, thinking, those kinds of functions, affecting daily life, and that constitutes Alzheimer's Disease.
KING: Jeanne, how is your mother doing?
JEANNE PHILLIPS, DEAR ABBY: Mom is doing as well as can be expected. But you have to understand that what she has is a progressive disease and there is deterioration.
KING: Is it very hard on you?
PHILLIPS: Is it hard on me?
PHILLIPS: Yes, I miss my mother very much.
KING: It is the long goodbye, is it not?
PHILLIPS: Yes it is. Little by little, inch by inch.
KING: Do they ever get better, Dr. Petersen?
PETERSEN: Well, there are treatments for Alzheimer's Disease right now that help the symptoms. And I think people can improve a bit and their symptoms improve, we can help with the mood and spirits, but we don't have the silver bullet yet, we don't have the drug that's going to stop the disease and that's where research is headed.
KING: Now why did the president live such a long time after the diagnoses. PETERSEN: I think there are several reasons. I think the president, one, was in good health, good general health. He was a very sturdy person. And plus, he received very good support from Mrs. Reagan, from the family.
KING: That's important?
KING: Other than drugs?
PETERSEN: Absolutely. I think that's what kept him going for a good 10 years after the diagnoses.
KING: Does your mother take new medication, Jeanne?
PHILLIPS: She tried one of them, but it made her agitated and so they took her off it.
KING: Nancy told me that the new medications weren't going to help Ron very much, but they were going to help newer patients down the line.
PETERSEN: I think that's right. Most of the medications that have been approved for the disease are for the mild to moderate stages. So as the president progressed, they were probably not likely to be helpful for him.
Most recently, there's been a new medication for the more severe stages of the disease.
KING: There is? That does what?
PETERSEN: Well, it helps with some of the symptoms that patients in the more severe disease: dressing, bathing, those kinds of basic bodily functions.
KING: We're told he died of pneumonia.
PETERSEN: That is correct.
KING: Is that pretty typical?
PETERSEN: That's quite common. I mean, people don't usually die of Alzheimer's Disease itself, but usually the medical complications of the disease.
KING: What's the difference between it and dementia?
PETERSEN: Dementia is an umbrella term that refers to an impairment in thinking, memory, that impairs your daily function. Of dementia, Alzheimer's Disease is one form, albeit, the most common form, in aging.
KING: Jeanne, was your mother slowly ongoing?
PHILLIPS: Yes. Her onset was very slow. And I think it started in the mid '80s.
KING: What's your biggest fear for the Alzheimer's patient, Dr. Petersen?
PETERSEN: Well, I think that they're not recognized as having a disease of the brain, of an organ, rather than having a sort of a mental illness. I think that this is a disease process...
KING: It's not a mental illness?
PETERSEN: Well, it depends on the ontology (ph), the definition of how you define these, but it is a disease of the brain of the person, just like a lung disease or a heart disease, it's that particular organ.
KING: Were you the one who told the president he had it?
PETERSEN: Yes, I was.
KING: Was that -- it can't be easy to do?
PETERSEN: No, it certainly wasn't. But I think the president and Mrs. Reagan took this like they took other challenges in this life, that this is the next hurdle, the next step that we have to face. And I think they were very courageous with it and they said, OK, this is the deck of cards we've been dealt, let's go on, let's deal with it.
KING: He didn't look down, or get depressed?
PETERSEN: I don't think so at all, not at all.
KING: How did your mother handle it, Jeanne?
PHILLIPS: Well, my mother wasn't told that she had the disease, my father didn't want to frighten her and so we took a different route. I really admire the courage and the honesty that Ronald Reagan showed when he talked to the public about his disease, about his diagnosis, because so many families circle the wagons, or they think that a mental ill -- a mental disease is something to be ashamed of.
KING: Did you tell Nancy first?
PETERSEN: We discussed it, yes we did. And I think that we approached if from the standpoint of what's the best way to approach the president with this. And we came to a mutual agreement that we confront him, we say this is what it is and I think he accepted it and went on with it.
KING: Have we learned a lot about it?
PETERSEN: We certainly have. I think in the 10 years since the president and Mrs. Reagan have announced the diagnosis, I think, research has advanced. And as importantly, people have realized that now, if the president of the United States can develop Alzheimer's Disease, my husband, my wife can, and it's not a problem. KING: Thank you for coming, doctor.
PETERSEN: My pleasure.
KING: Thank you, Jeanne.
PHILLIPS: Thank you.
KING: Best wishes to you. Thanks for joining us. And I'll be back in a couple of minutes and tell you about tomorrow. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
N. REAGAN: We learn each day a different way to deal with the incredible pain and loneliness of this disease. And I'm struck by the lessons it teaches each of us as we try to find the words of comfort to the questions of why? Why Ronnie? Why me? Why now when we were supposed to have this wonderful twilight time together?
I found that even though the person I love and have loved for 44 years is slipping away, my love for him grows. As he changes, if I stopped asking why and simply love, I too grow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A lot of special guests coming up all this week as we cover the landscape so magnificiently covered by the 40th president of the United States. "NEWSNIGHT" is next on this Sunday night, a special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" with it's always special host, Aaron Brown -- Aarong.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com