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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Ronald Reagan Through Eyes of His Family

Aired December 24, 2004 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Good evening and welcome. Glad to have you with us tonight. Thanks so much for joining us on this Christmas Eve. We have something very special for you tonight, a look back at a beloved American we lost this year. Our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, through the eyes of his family. We'll begin in just a moment. But first, let's go to Atlanta for a look at today's news.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. In the news, dinner and presents may have to wait for thousands of travelers delayed by record snowfall in the middle of the country. However, albeit slow, traffic once again is flowing on interstates from Arkansas to Indiana. But some churches are canceling Christmas Eve services to keep people off the icy roads.

At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II celebrated midnight mass with a plea for peace. He called violence an unacceptable evil that never solves problems.

And in Iraq, troops in Falluja stirred up a little Christmas cheer with carols and a visit from Santa. More than 148,000 service men and women are spending Christmas a long way from home.

Tomorrow morning, look for a CNN special report on special homecomings. Military family reunions, the injured and the heroes. That's tomorrow, 8:00 a.m. Eastern time. And that's what's happening now in the news. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Now back to New York and PAULA ZAHN NOW.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ZAHN: They spoke so movingly from the heart.

MICHAEL REAGAN, RONALD REAGAN'S SON: You knew my father as governor, as president. But I knew him as dad.

PATTI DAVIS, RONALD REAGAN'S DAUGHTER: He showed us that neither disease nor death can conquer love.

ZAHN: About their father who just happened to be president.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I, Ronald Reagan ...

ZAHN: Tonight, my conversations with Michael Reagan and Patti Davis.

When President Reagan died last June after a long, painful battle with Alzheimer's, there was an outpouring of grief all over the country. And even though his illness kept him out of the public eye in the final years of his life, the memory of his charm and charisma united Americans, for a few days at least, in the middle of a bitter presidential campaign. But it was left to his children to convey his family's grief. His oldest son Michael did that in an emotional eulogy.

M. REAGAN: Good evening. I'm Mike Reagan. You knew my father, as governor, as president, but I knew him as dad. I want to tell you a little bit about my dad.

ZAHN: They were poignant words dramatically delivered at sunset by Michael, Ronald Reagan's oldest son.

M. REAGAN: Ronald Reagan adopted me into his family in 1945. I was the chosen one. I was the lucky one. In all of his years, he never mentioned it, that I was adopted either behind my back or in front of me. I was his son, Michael Edward Reagan.

ZAHN: Ronald Reagan in his first wife Jane Wyman adopted Michael when he was an infant. Despite the seemingly perfect family portrait, Ron and Jane divorced just four years later. Wyman kept custody of the children. Reagan remarried soon after in 1952 to Nancy Davis. They went on to have their own children. Michael complained in his 1988 memoir that he and his sister Maureen were raised by maids and nannies.

M. REAGAN: I was an angry kid. I didn't spend much time with my parents when I was growing up. I was put away in boarding schools.

ZAHN: During his teens, Michael returned home to live with his family. Later, he would join his father on the campaign trail during his runs for governor and in the 1980s during his presidential bid. But despite appearances, there was a distance within the family. Some years later, when his father was elected president, Michael rarely visited the White House. President Reagan did not even meet Michael's daughter Ashley until she was 18 months old. Over the years, there were reports that Michael was estranged from other members of his family, especially from his sister Maureen and stepmother Nancy.

M. REAGAN: Yeah. We're back, everybody.

ZAHN: In the 1980s, Michael found his own success and his own audience as a conservative radio talk show host in southern California. He also forged a new relationship with his father.

M. REAGAN: You know, I had always griped about my dad, never hugged me, never told me he loved me or anything. Then one day I woke up and said, when was the last time I told him I loved him? When was the last time I hugged him? I never had.

ZAHN: Ronald Reagan once wrote to his eldest son, "Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others. Now you have a chance to make it come out the way it should. There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching the door at the end of the day and knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps. Love, dad. P.S., you'll never get in trouble if you say 'I love you' at least once a day."

A love that ultimately brought the Reagans together as their patriarch was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, together in his final moments. Together as they said good-bye.

M. REAGAN: I was so proud to have the Reagan name and to be Ronald Reagan's son. What a great honor.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ZAHN: And Michael Reagan joins us now. Always good to see you. Welcome.

M. REAGAN: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: How are you holding up?

M. REAGAN: Holding up, you know, pretty well. I mean, it's -- as well as I think can be expected. It's easier to hold up, though, when you have the support of a lot of friends and what have you the cards and letters that we've gotten at our homes has been tremendous. And so we spend a lot of time going through all the cards that we've gotten, and that's kind of a nice support system. Our friends -- some have made dinner for us and come over to the house. So we're not like there alone just kind of dwelling in it. We're able to be with some friends. That's nice. You find out who your friends are at a time like this.

ZAHN: You certainly do.

If you would, reflect on the week of your father's state funeral and the commemorations that sprung up all over the country. What stands out in your mind?

M. REAGAN: There's a couple of things that stand out. Other than just the outpouring of people, which was absolutely tremendous, there was a father and son. Son was probably 4 years old. Standing in the median of the freeway as we drove from the library out to Point Mugu on that Wednesday before we went back to Washington, DC., and the father and son standing at attention. I thought, here's a little boy who, no more than 4 years old, 5 years old, the only thing he knows about my father is what has been told to him by his dad. And there they were saluting.

The fire trucks on the overpasses of the freeway with the firemen standing at attention on their trucks as the American flag was unfurled between their ladders. It was so, so moving to us. And, of course, all the outpouring of people between point a and point b, wherever that might be. It was tremendous to be able to see it. It had such a great effect, I think on my children, that Cameron and Ashley were able to really understand, maybe for the first time, how wonderful a grandfather they had and how much he meant to the world.

ZAHN: Your father was much beloved, and yet did some of this outpouring of support come as a surprise to you? M. REAGAN: Oh, yeah. You expect some. I don't think we expected, any of us, the literally hundreds of thousands of people that would show up. I mean, you don't -- I mean, maybe you hope for it. People say, you know, we want to remember, but the way it was, the national day of mourning that the President of the United States made on that Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know, as he always said, that America's best days are ahead of us. But with Ronald Reagan's passing some very fine days are behind us, and that is worth our tears.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. REAGAN: The people from the cathedral, National Cathedral, going out to Andrews Air Force Base or from Point Mugu to the library, yeah it was tremendous. And it was a tremendous surprise in many ways to us. But at the same time, it was such a great support system to us to be able to see it and just see the outpouring. I know it was -- meant so much to Nancy and to myself and Patti and Ron too.

ZAHN: There's been so much talk about that week neither being a Democratic moment or a Republican moment, but an American moment. If you would, share your thoughts with us tonight about that.

M. REAGAN: It truly was. It was an American moment. I mean, we're able to honor one of our presidents who had passed away. And my father's one of those people that the only reason he got elected governor twice and president twice is because he was able to really reach across party lines. He was respected on both sides. People argued and debated his policies all the time. They always do. But at the end of the day, everybody respected Ronald Reagan. He was able to make friends out of his enemies. The fact at the National Cathedral sitting behind my daughter Ashley and son Cameron was Mikhail Gorbachev. Who would have ever thought of that?

Back in the early 1980s when my father was referring to it as the Evil Empire, here Mikhail Gorbachev would be at my father's state funeral. And to see that and be part of it and to see how America can come together at points in time and show respect and show honor for one of their fallen presidents, I thought was tremendous. With the world able to see that. With all the arguments that take place in America, because of our freedom of speech, that we can at times come together. I think it was good for everybody to see.

ZAHN: It's one thing as a sewn to see a nation honor your father's legacy, but it's another thing to have delivered the deeply personal eulogy you delivered at the library. As a son, what got to your core the most?

M. REAGAN: Oh, the eulogy, talking about that, I thought about that all week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) M. REAGAN: You knew my father, as governor, as president, but I knew him as dad. I want to tell you a little bit about my dad.

What do I say? How do I take 59 years of my life with my dad and put it into four or five minutes that I have and then I'm going first. And my worry was, how do I get through it? And all week long, we'd heard about my father, the president, what he had accomplished. Margaret Thatcher and President Bush and the other President Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, Mulroney and those people. And I thought, I've got to tell them about my dad. I've just got to tell them about my dad. Because you all loved him as president. I loved him as my dad. And I just wanted to get that part out there. So people could see that with all the things that have been said about our family, that we haven't been together, that we've gone apart, whatever, there's one thing that's been consistent in this family, and you know it, Paula. We all love Ronald Reagan, and I wanted to just bring that to the table and just tell you a little bit about him. And I was glad I was just able to get through it and be able to share it with the American people, my deep love for my father and what he had done for me and what he had given me that maybe I didn't see when I was younger, but I certainly saw and respected as I got older.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: You told this beautiful story about one family turning into two, when your parents got divorced. And the sense of anticipation you would have on weekends when you could see your father, Ronald Reagan, rounding the corner, to come spend time with you.

M. REAGAN: You know, interesting enough, it's not more than a half mile from where he was living when he passed away. Just down Beverley Glen. And, you know, I was boarding at school. When I was 5 1/2 years old, I started at boarding school. My sister was already in boarding school before me. I missed my mom and dad. I missed my dad terribly because my mom and dad broke up when I was 3. But on Saturdays, that was the day I got to be with my dad. And you know, I would just sit there on the curb at 333 South Beverley Glen and wait for that station wagon to turn the corner. And wait for him to pull up with a smile on his face and tell me to get in the car.

And Maureen and I would pile into the car. We'd play a game called "beaver," going out to the ranch and coming back, and beaver was any station wagon that had wood sides. Back in the 1950s, there was woodies. And so if it had a wood side, it was beaver, beaver. And dad always kept count in his head. And by the time we got almost to the ranch or almost home, he'd figure out who was ahead, who was behind, and he would play on whoever was behind, he would play on their team. And whenever we got there, it would be a tie. It would just end up to be a tie. And that was the games we played in the car going to and from the ranch. And, of course, we'd get out to the ranch and swim and ride horses or just, as I said, sit and watch him. But Saturdays was the day to be with my dad, and, boy, I loved it.

ZAHN: Some very special memories from Michael Reagan. When we come back, our conversation turns to the Reagans and their family divisions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. We continue now with my conversation with Michael Reagan eldest son of the late Ronald Reagan.

Michael, you mentioned one thing before we went to the break, and you talked about some of the friction that has existed in your family over the years, and you said there was one unifying factor in your family, and that was the love of your father. Help us better understand the journey your family took to get to that point.

M. REAGAN: Well, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he had a terrible disease, Alzheimer's disease, incapacitated, not able to be the father to us that he once was, not able to maybe recognize us as he wasn't able to recognize us as the very end, and we all watched him go through this. All of a sudden, he was the child, and we were the parent. Puts a new perspective on things.

And that was important to all of us, and seeing Nancy, who, you know, we've all kind of, you know, had our relationships, been with her, been against her over the years, who, you know, in many ways was reaching out and taking care of dad as she was 24 hours a day and having the nurses and the doctors there.

I was so lucky and so happy, Paula, that I was able to, before dad got so deep into the Alzheimer's, to get our relationship really where it should have been. You heard me talk about the hugs and certainly those hugs just meant a whole lot to both of us in his final years. And me, as even I kissed and hugged him in his casket there at the library, the rotunda in back of the library here a couple of weeks ago.

Patti was able to finally find her way back into the fold and have that relationship with Nancy and finally build a relationship, even though dad was in Alzheimer's, with her dad and understand who he was and what he was and how important he was. And that was just wonderful to see so that I think dad would have wanted it the way it ended. He would have asked and said, gosh, who are all these people out here for? And been surprised at the outpouring of love for him because he never patted himself on the back.

But I think he would have been proud and smiling. I think he was. When we laid him to rest because his family was together. His wife, his Nancy, his daughter Patti, his son Ron and his other son Michael. I think that would have made him so proud. I think that was a great gift to be able to give Dad at the end, send him off having the kids all together, all loving him, and all surrounding Nancy there at the casket.

ZAHN: Given the amount of attention you ascribed over the years, were you surprised you were able to get to that point? A lot of families don't. They don't heal that way.

M. REAGAN: I think because a lot of families, Paula, wait for somebody else to make the first move. They sit back so often and say, well, I'm right. They're wrong. They owe me a phone call. I felt that same way. That's why I can say that. And I remember back in early 1990s, '91, I was feeling the same way, and my dad had never told me he loved me or that he really cared about me. I knew he did, but he never said it, and I needed it voice to me. And one day literally I was praying about it, and it's like God spoke to me, and he said, Michael, when was the last time you told your dad you loved him? And I realized in my whole life, until 1991, Paula, I had never told my dad I loved him. He knew I loved him, but I had never said, Dad, I love you.

ZAHN: Why do you think that is, Michael?

M. REAGAN: I don't know. Maybe because he never said it to me so I never learned to say it back to him.

ZAHN: Why do you think he never told you he loved you?

M. REAGAN: I think he comes from a generation where it's hard for a guy to tell another guy I love you. I think it's hard for his generation sometimes. And so I swore the next time I saw him I would give him a hug and tell him I love him. And he came down to my radio show in San Diego, KSDO, and he came to be interviewed by me about his book, "An American Life." and when he came into the green room, I got up and I went in there to greet him and Ii put my arms around him for the first time and gave him a hug and said, "Dad, I love you." and for the first time in his life, he said to me, "I love you too." And I began the process of hugging him and telling him I love him. And then, Paula, as he went deeper and deeper into Alzheimer's, he could no longer voice my name. He would recognize that I was the guy, when he saw me, I was the guy who hugged him. And he would open up his arms to me waiting for that hug hello or the hug goodbye.

And one time as I left the house with my wife Colleen, and I was almost to the car, Colleen said to me, "Michael, you forgot something" and I said what? And she said, turn and look at the doorway. I turned to look at the door in the house at Bel Air. And he followed me all the way from the den not able to voice my name. Here he is, and he's all the way and he had followed me, and here he was standing in the doorway of his house with his arms open up. Waiting for that hug I had forgotten, and I ran back, and I just gave him the hug. It was such -- it's such a blessing. And it was me that looked inward and said, what can I do to change the dynamic? Instead of changing -- saying, what should he do to change the dynamic? And once I made the decision that I was going to change, everything changed.

ZAHN: And because you were able to get to this point where there was a reconciliation, or at least the acceptance of each other's love, what is it then that you will miss the most about your father?

M. REAGAN: Stories, the great stories he used to tell us all. Just life stories about whatever it was. You know, telling us that a watch was made or a simple little story when I was a kid. Paula, he took a cube of sugar one day, and he opened up the cube of sugar, and he said, you see this little tear in the paper? And I said yes. He says, do you know that, when they originally started putting paper around cubed sugar, it would disintegrate within the paper. And some guy came along and said you have to put a slit in the paper to allow air to get to it, and that way it will stay in solid form. You know, that happened to me about the time I was 5. To this day i open up every cube of sugar paper, and i look to see if there's a tear in the paper. And you know most of the time ...

ZAHN: Who knew? Ronald Reagan, the scientist.

M. REAGAN: Most of the time, there is. But he would just tell stories about so many things, about life. A story -- you know, he sat Maureen and I down. Maureen, who you knew. He sat Maureen and I down when we were 12 years old. Her 12, and four years later me. And he said, let me tell you about smoking and drinking. It's a bad terrible thing for you. But I'm willing to do this for you, kids. When you turn 21, if you haven't smoked or drank, I'll give you $500. Well, that was a lot of money.

ZAHN: Sure. It was a windfall.

M. REAGAN: Maureen thought, $500? I think Maureen made it to like 13 or 14. I don't know.

ZAHN: How about you, Michael? Did you make it to 14 or 15?

M. REAGAN: I made it to 18. But I felt the lesson was he never was going to have to write the check. However, he figured that the more mature we were when we started, the better we'd be able to handle it. So I did the same thing with my kids, but I raised the ante, figuring with inflation you never have to write the check. I just wrote a check to my daughter for $5,000 on her 21st birthday because she didn't smoke or drink.

ZAHN: Way to go, Dad.

M. REAGAN: And so the beat goes on. I had to write the check. She took the check too. And she didn't smoke or drink until she was 21, which was great. I don't know that the story had anything to do with it, but the fact she didn't. But it was something that my dad handed to me and I said that's a great story.

ZAHN: No doubt a lesson that will be passed on to the next generation of Reagans. When we come back, the new controversy for the Reagans.

M. REAGAN: I think people trying to play politics are doing a disservice to everybody.

ZAHN: The debate over the use of stem cells divides the Reagan family.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. Now more from my conversation with the Reagans' oldest son Michael. As the next thing came upon the Reagan family, using stem cells to find a cure for the disease that took Ronald Reagan's life. Michael, let's talk about Nancy Reagan for a minute. There's speculation that she will become actively involved in the battle to push for stem cell research. What kind of role do you think she'll play, particularly when there's such a tough balancing act with where the Republican Party stands on this issue?

M. REAGAN: It should be a lightning rod because of who she is. She'll be a lightning rod, as people are already finding out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: We can't share the wonderful memories of our 52 years together, and I think that's probably the hardest part. And to this, I'm determined to do what I can to save other families from this pain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. REAGAN: She took care of her husband for ten years. She knows what it is to deal with someone who has this disease. So give her the leeway. And I think people trying to play politics are doing a disservice to everybody. Understand where she's coming from. And you have to be there. You have to have been there and had to deal with this 24 hours a day to understand where she's coming from. So now is not the time to play politics with it. It's time to say, hey, Nancy, we understand.

ZAHN: So basically, Michael, what you're telling us tonight is she's willing to take the risk in alienating other Republicans to push for what she thinks is the right thing.

M. REAGAN: To her it's not a Republican-Democrat issue. It's a life issue. That's exactly what it is. I'm not going to go up to Nancy and say, gosh, you're absolutely wrong. You've got to take a political stand on this. No. I'm not going to ask her to do this. Listen, she took enough political stands during her life being married to the 40th president of the United States of America. I think they've proven their worth to the world, to America that we live in. It's a better place because of it. I'll be the one that takes political stands. I'll do that and enjoy doing it and understand both sides at the same time.

ZAHN: And, finally, your family had to endure so much as you basically lost your father so slowly disintegrating in front of you. Just a thought to the audience, many of our audience members are confronting this disease as well, as to what the hardest part was for you to confront in all of this?

M. REAGAN: Just watching someone you love go through it. That's the hardest part, somebody so vibrant, so alive. A little bit of that person going away each and every day. That's very tough to be able to watch.

And you do, you find yourself praying that, you know, it's time to go. You can -- you can leave now. And you sit back and say, why did he -- why did he last so long? And I think he lasted so long so that the family could finally be together at the end.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: When we come back, Ronald Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, tells me about her long estrangement from the family and how they finally reconciled.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Patti Davis' relationship with her father was vastly different than her brother Michael's. For many years, Davis was the outsider in the Reagan family.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

R. REAGAN: What's that?

PATTI DAVIS, RONALD REAGAN'S DAUGHTER: Mommy's iron.

N. REAGAN: That's right, honey.

ZAHN (voice-over): In this G.E. commercial from the 1950s, the Reagans were the picture of a perfect family.

DAVIS: Mommy, this game is fun.

ZAHN: Years later, in her 1992 autobiography, Patti wrote that it was not all perfect. She described her father as emotionally detached and her mother as abusive.

Patti became the rebel in the family. To distance herself, she dropped the Reagan name in favor of her mother's maiden name.

Her defiance didn't stop there. Miles apart from her father politically, she openly disagreed with his policies, making speeches at anti-nuclear rallies while he was still in the Oval Office.

She even posed for "Playboy," an angry daughter whose father, Ronald Reagan, just happened to be president.

DAVIS: I think, if you're given a label like she's rebellious, she's -- she's the bad kid, there's -- the defiance almost gets a little bit twisted because I know in myself there was a part of me that went, oh, yes, well, then watch this? I'm going to be even worse than you think I am.

ZAHN: But time and Ronald Reagan's struggle with Alzheimer's softened her heart. She reconciled with her family and delivered a moving address at her father's burial service last June.

DAVIS: I don't know why Alzheimer's was allowed to steal so much of my father. Sorry. Before releasing him into the arms of death. But I know that at his last moment, when he opened his eyes, eyes that had not opened for many, many days and looked at my mother, he showed us that neither disease nor death can conquer love.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Patti Davis has written a book about her father's 9 1/2 year battle with Alzheimer's. It's called "The Long Good-bye," and she spoke with me just a few weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Good to see you. Welcome to our show.

DAVIS: Thank you very much.

ZAHN: So, Patti, what do you think this holiday season's going to be like for your family to get through not having your father around for the first time?

DAVIS: It's a little -- it's difficult. The holidays widen any kind of absence like this and -- and make it seem bigger.

But, you know, my father loved Christmas. I -- I have sort of been finding myself remembering when I was a child and he would haul out the Christmas lights and string them up outside the house when the tree was delivered.

So I think all of that comes -- comes back to you when you lose someone and when you do go through the first holiday season without them. It is -- the sadness has increased, but I think the sweetness of the memories has also increased.

ZAHN: You write quite poignantly about your mother in this book and how she's confronting her loneliness, and in one passage you say, "The moment I will remember forever is my mother sitting on a bar chair in my kitchen saying, 'I don't know how to be alone. I've never been alone.' She was fighting back tears, looking into a future that chills her with fear."

How is your mother doing?

DAVIS: She's doing well, considering. She's -- she is a little less alone all the time now because she has a dog. So it's glued to her heels. So that companionship is helping a lot. And she has family, and she has friends.

ZAHN: One of the most amazing things to me about this book is how personal it is, and you talk in a very open way about the journey you've taken over the years, particularly when it comes to reconciling with both of your parents. What has that journey been like for you?

DAVIS: My generation really hung on to -- we hung onto our adolescence for a very long time. I mean, I've -- you know, we kept exploring and re-exploring our inner child and all of that. I've said many times that my inner child, by the time I retired her was so old.

So we had -- and I write about this. We had a bit of a longer journey to come back to our parents. I think...

ZAHN: What brought you back, Patti? DAVIS: I think I was bored with my own story, you know. I think I -- I think I again, like many people, I sort of dragged around this story of what my burdens were and what didn't go right in my childhood and what was wrong with my family. And, of course, I had a very unique story.

I mean, it was sort of like, "Hi, I'm Patti. My father just bombed Libya. And my mother and I, you know, we don't get" -- and the whole world knew about it.

So it was kind of like feel sorry for me. Don't expect too much of me. But I think, you know, you get bored with your own story, which is a good thing.

ZAHN: In the book you're quite candid and remorseful about some of the embarrassment you might have caused both your mother and father, particularly when they were in Washington. What do you have the most powerful regrets about?

DAVIS: My most powerful regrets are the way in which I expressed my political disagreements with my father. My father was not someone who would ask any of his children to not express their opinions and not feel passionate about their opinions.

But the way in which I did it, as stridently as I did it, appearing at demonstrations for world peace, but really all I was communicating was that I was at war with my parents. So it was the way in which I chose to do it that caused pain.

ZAHN: Were you able to communicate with your father these kinds of thoughts that you talk about in this book? I know that you reconciled with him before the nation learned of his battle with Alzheimer's.

DAVIS: I did. And I think there was much more to say after that. And so there are two answers to your question. As the disease progressed, no, I couldn't have those kind of conversations with him.

The other answer is that his soul didn't have Alzheimer's. And so there was very clear, clean, deep conversation, deep exchanges with my father, even deep into the illness. And most people who have had a loved one with Alzheimer's know this and have felt that that has occurred.

ZAHN: But in looking at his soul, once he was diagnosed, what did you see?

DAVIS: I saw the same sweetness that had characterized him his whole life, and everybody did, even toward the end when he had to have round the clock nursing care. The nurses were astounded at how sweet he still was.

That's not always the case with Alzheimer's. He just remained polite even -- even when the disease had taken so much of him. That sweetness and that sort of concern for other people remained.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: More with Patti Davis in a moment, including her take on the stem cell controversy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Before the break, we heard Patti Davis talk about her long estrangement from the Reagan family and her regrets as Alzheimer's began to steal her father from her.

As our conversation continued, she revealed more of the personal pain of watching her father's decline.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Describe to us what you went through as you had just recently reconciled with your father and you watched him walk this painful, painful path. What was the hardest part of this long good- bye for you?

DAVIS: I think the hardest part for anyone with a long illness like this is the waiting. You are waiting for an end that is not negotiable.

When you see an illness whittling someone away, you -- you are very conscious that the end is moving closer. You don't know when it's going to happen. You only know that it will. So you're in a constant state of waiting.

ZAHN: And how did you confront the whole idea that your father couldn't recognize you at one point?

DAVIS: It wasn't that disturbing to me. At one point when I was leaving the room and I said, "Bye, Dad, I love you." And it was very clear to me he didn't, at that moment, know that I was his daughter. But his response was, "Oh, thank you." And I thought that was so beautiful.

ZAHN: Patti, I wanted to move on to the controversy of stem cell research. You, your mother, Ronald Reagan Jr., are strong proponents of the research.

Your brother Michael doesn't think it's going to take us to an Alzheimer's cure. You fervently believe it will, don't you?

DAVIS: Yes, I believe it will. I think that Alzheimer's is going to be a more complicated cure than juvenile diabetes, that Parkinson's, because Alzheimer's is a more complicated disease, but all the more reason to start doing research and federally fund that research, which, of course, is not going to happen under this administration.

But no one can say that it's not going to be a cure for anything until we really pursue that research.

ZAHN: What is the cold hard political reality of you taking on -- and some members of your family taking on -- the Bush administration on this really hot button issue.

DAVIS: I don't think it should be -- obviously, it is a hot button issue. I don't believe that it should be. And I -- and there's a part of me that is continually astounded that it is.

We are talking about clusters of cells in Petri dishes. And we are talking about clusters of cells that could potentially save lives, and if not used for stem cell research, are going to be destroyed. These are the excess that have -- that have resulted from in-vitro fertilization.

What I don't understand is, if people opposing stem cell research are so morally opposed to it, then why aren't they morally opposed to in-vitro fertilization, which is how these cells end up there anyway, and they will be destroyed?

ZAHN: But help us understand what it is like for your family to get engaged in an issue like this. Your mother, of course, being a loyal Republican forever, involved in, in a minor way, in this campaign. That -- it can't be easy for your family.

DAVIS: I think that that's a question that would be better posed to my mother, because she's a Republican. So she has the conflict. I'm not, so I don't. I don't feel a conflict.

But -- but, you know, if you ever talk to her, I think you should ask her about it.

ZAHN: We'd love to talk to her. Can you get her on the phone right now? I've been trying for months to talk with her.

How do you think your father would view this political fight?

DAVIS: I think that my father is enormously proud of my mother for taking a stand. I believe he would be in favor of stem cell research. I don't think that he would want a potential cure for so many diseases to literally be destroyed.

ZAHN: Do you think your father would be disappointed in the discourse today politically?

DAVIS: I think he'd be horrified, frankly. I really do.

ZAHN: What would bug him the most?

DAVIS: The meanness. He was not a mean person, and he didn't believe in mean campaigning.

ZAHN: And do you think that he would probably feel that this is why it's very tough to get really qualified people interested in the political game today?

DAVIS: I'm sure he would feel that way. Look, I'm sure that there are probably a couple of people somewhere out in the country who would be amazing presidents but who look at what campaigning has become and what the political process has become, and go -- and they say, "Well, why would I want to go there?"

ZAHN: What do you want people to think of when they look at Ronald Reagan's legacy?

DAVIS: I would want them to think of the man and what a good person he was. Whether you agreed with him or not, he led with his heart. I mean, you knew that he earnestly and authentically believed in what he was saying.

And I think that that's very -- unfortunately, very rare these days. And I think people miss it terribly.

ZAHN: We should miss it terribly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: As my conversation with Patti Davis continues, she looks back on the week that captivated the nation as we said farewell to Ronald Reagan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: I spoke with Patti Davis six months after her father died, time enough to look back with some perspective on a remarkable week in America, a week that turned one family's personal grief into a public outpouring of emotion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: I wanted to close off tonight by talking about your father's funeral.

I was so struck by how it seemed to pull the country together. You talked to people who waited hours and hours to view your father's body, and they talked about this enormous need they had to be a part of that national conversation.

When you look back on that week of mourning and the week of celebrating your father's legacy, what is it that stands out the most?

DAVIS: The entire week stands out to me, and I know I speak for my -- for my whole family with that, how moving it was for us, and the fact that it really kind of -- it held us above the waterline.

People said to me afterwards it must have been so hard to grieve in public. It wasn't hard. What was hard was when that week ended, and we had to wake up every morning and really inhabit our grief and really go through the days and nights that were to follow, getting used to my father not being here.

ZAHN: All presidents, to a certain extent, get involved with the planning of their own funerals. Your father did it during his own presidency, and there were some details that were very important to him.

How do you think he might have looked at that whole week of mourning?

DAVIS: Oh, I think he was around. I think he was looking in and -- and smiling and winking, and we talked about it a lot in the car as we were driving up to the library and driving different places, wherever we were.

The number of people that were out and people who, as you said, had stood out there for so long just to watch the motorcade go by. And I mean, I could -- I could see what my father's expression would be, just, you know, how humbled he would be and how deeply moved he would be.

And I think there would be a part of him that would sort of not understand why people would take so much time and -- and be so moved. I don't know that he ever really was completely conscious of how -- of how much he moved people.

ZAHN: In the book, you also make no secret of the fact that there was a lot of contention in your family. In the end, was it your father's illness that cut through that and brought you all back together again?

DAVIS: No. I think it was -- certainly, that was part of it. But I think it -- I think it's growth and maturity. You just -- you know, it really does get down to growing up and realizing that life is short. And realizing that everybody -- everybody has done the best that they could do.

I think, when we're children, we sort of have this assumption that our parents went to parenting school or something like that and that they, you know, should do everything perfectly.

I mean, my mother, you know, has said to me, confided things that she wished she'd done differently in -- in our upbringing. I'm not going to tell you what they were so don't ask me that.

ZAHN: I was going to have you go through the whole list right here.

DAVIS: No. But everybody has -- everybody's made mistakes. Everybody -- our parents look back, too.

ZAHN: Sure.

DAVIS: And say, you know, gee, I shouldn't have done this. I should have done this differently. And you know, so everybody does that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Thanks so much for joining us tonight. Glad to have you with us. On Monday, inside Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and the arrest of Saddam. Our interview with the Iraqi American who pulled him out of that spider hole.

Again, thanks for joining us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Merry Christmas. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday. Good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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