Ronald Reagan may have grown up in Illinois, but his home was where he hung his hat — particularly his cowboy hat — and that was at his California ranch. That's where Barbara Walters first interviewed Ronald Reagan during his presidency, just eight months after he survived John Hinckley's assassination attempt.
Walters recalls her Thanksgiving 1981 visit with Reagan at his secluded California Rancho del Cielo, or "Ranch in the Sky," as among her most memorable. She interviewed Reagan several more times both during his presidency and after. The interviews, spread over more than a decade, were opportunities to get to know one of the most down-to-earth presidents of our time.
Here are some highlights from Walters' visits with Reagan and former first lady Nancy Reagan:
1981: A Visit to the ‘Ranch in the Sky’
Then 70 years old, Reagan was amazingly physically strong, as he would continue to be for many more years. The president felt at home in the California mountains, and his ranch was his private sanctuary.
There, Reagan and his beloved Nancy, lived a life that was a world away from the glamour and ceremony of Washington, D.C. They enjoyed riding horses. Reagan chopped wood, and drove a jeep around the grounds.
In this interview, Nancy Reagan recalled the frightening March 30, 1981, assassination attempt on her husband's life.
NANCY REAGAN: I remember police running back and forth in the corridors and yelling, "Get those people out of the way!" And shouting and just a lot of noise. And finally they let me in to see Ronnie and that was when he said, "Honey, I forgot to duck."
WALTERS: Mrs. Reagan, was there a point when you thought your husband might die?
NANCY REAGAN: I was awfully scared. I was awfully scared.
In a later interview, Reagan said he didn't realize he'd been shot until he was in his car. Then, he said, "I felt the most excruciating pain I've ever felt."
BARBARA WALTERS: Mr. President, this ranch is a very special place for you. What happens to you here? What does it do for you?
PRESIDENT REAGAN: Well, it almost casts a spell. It is truly a Shangri-La and it just, well I guess the Scripture line is right: I looked at the hills from whence cometh my strength.
Humble Beginnings in Illinois
But Reagan, born in 1911 in Tamico, Ill., was raised in an environment that was anything but Shangri-La, and a home that you might not expect to produce a man known for extraordinary optimism.
WALTERS: Do you remember a time in your life that, when you look back, was the most difficult? REAGAN: We were poor. We had problems when my brother and I were boys growing up that seemed insurmountable to young boys at the time.
His father, Jack Reagan, struggled with alcoholism all his life.
REAGAN: Really he was a fine man, and it was a typical tragedy of the disease. … My mother would constantly say to us, "You must remember this is a sickness. This is not something that you should blame your father for. This is something that he can't help."
WALTERS: I don't know if you remember this but your brother, Moon, talking about you as a little boy said that one of your habits that used to drive him crazy was that you would come up to him and other people and start playing with their earlobe. Do you remember this?
REAGAN: Yes. I would sit in school, I don't know why, and there wasn't anyone close enough, I would sit and pull my own.
WALTERS: He said he used to swat you all the time.