When I went to work for Reagan, first as director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and later as director of public liaison in the White House, I got to see the president up close. It wasn't until then that I fully realized what kind of man he was. He wasn't just a great leader; he was a funny, warm, compassionate person. He went out of his way to recognize ordinary people doing the unglamorous work that keeps the country moving.
Once, when we were travelling in the backseat of the presidential limousine, he apologized that he couldn't look at me while we talked because it was important to the people lining the streets that he wave at them and catch their eye.
"They'll be telling their grandkids about the day they saw the president of the United States," he said, humbly, as if his own personal magnetism had nothing to do with the reason they'd come out in the first place.
My husband will always be the most important influence in my life. But President Reagan and my father were each a close second.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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