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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Peter Roussel

June 8, 2004

Peter Roussel
Good afternoon. This is Peter Roussel. I currently live in Houston, Texas. I formerly lived in Washington, DC where I spent 1981 - 1987 serving in the White House as a Special Assistant and Deputy Press Secretary to President Reagan. Prior to that, I first came to Washington as Press Secretary to a then-Congressman from Houston named George Bush and served as his Press Secretary when he was in Congress, when he ran for Senate in 1970; and when he was US Ambassador to the United Nations. Later I had my first tour of duty under President Ford from 1974 - 1976. So, that's my background here in Washington. I'm happy to take your questions today.

Roxanne, from Wake Forest University writes:
My favorite memory of President Reagan was when he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Certainly, it was a momentous speech. What was the funniest thing you ever heard him say?

Peter Roussel
Hi Roxanne at Wake Forest....

That was one of the great things about being around President Reagan. You got to hear him say many witty and humorous things. Much of it, spontaneous and off the cuff. He could find humor even in situations that had impacted him.

As an example, several years after the assassination attempt on him, he was giving a speech in a large arena when a sharp sound rang out which we all feared was a gunshot. It turned out to be just someone stomping on a paper cup. But it sounded like a gunshot.

At the time, we all ducked. But not President Reagan. He stood firm at the podium and without even pausing in his speech said, "Missed me."

The audience erupted in applause and laughter.

Hayden, from Falls Church, VA writes:
What was it like working for President Reagan? Who was your favorite people to work with? I adore Peggy Noonan -- was she fun?

Peter Roussel
Hi Hayden

The White House under President Reagan was an incredible place to work. Every day when I came to work I knew that President Reagan would do something either in a large or small way – but do something to inspire me. But he did, every day. And that made me want to work all the harder on his behalf.

We had a terrific staff. Hard working, dedicated individuals and we got along quite well.

I was quite close to all the members of the Press Office staff of whom there were about 30 at that time. Many of whom had just graduated from college and were in their first job.

My closest two friends in the Reagan White House were Jim Baker the Chief of Staff who was also from Houston and Larry Speakes who was the Principal Deputy Press Secretary.

We worked with the speechwriters office, including Peggy Noonan, who I found to be an extremely bright and talented writer who had an engaging and fun personality.

Laurie, from writes:
What are the hours that President Reagan's body is going to lie in state in the Capitol on Thursday and Friday?



Peter Roussel

He will be in state at the Capitol Rotunda starting at 8:30pm (Eastern Time) on Wednesday and through the night. He will lie in state on Thursday for the next 24 hours. I'm not sure where you live but it will be a unique experience for anyone to visit the Capitol during this period.

I might add he will be the 10th President to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda and the 8th to have a funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Dan, from Lemont, Illinois writes:
What impact do President Reagan's policy of then, come to light of this era? Economic, foreign, etc.

Thank you

Peter Roussel

A G8 economic summit of world leaders in currently underway in Georgia. Participating in that is Russia, a participation that I think can be fairly attributed to President Reagan’s efforts in helping end the cold war.

During the current Administration, President Bush has been an advocate of tax cuts to stimulate the economy – a theory for which President Reagan was a strong advocate.

President Reagan also worked to reduce the size of government and curbed the growth of wasteful spending programs.

Desiree, from Worcester, MA writes:
Hello Peter, It must have been an honor for you to have known President Reagan. It was an honor for me to vote for him both terms as President, having just turned age 18 before the general election in 1980.

Since hearing the news on Saturday, I can't help but break down in tears now and then, especially being glued to the coverage. We know he's in a better place and not suffering anymore. We knew this was coming, but it's still a shock. It's like losing a member of the family. There are so many of us who feel this way.

Can you give us some helpful words?

Thanks so much and regards,


Peter Roussel

I understand the grief you feel, believe me. I share it as do all of us from the Reagan Administration who are gathered here to attend his funeral.

While I know President Reagan would be deeply appreciate of your feelings, I think his life and career should now inspire you in whatever pursuits you are involved. And I know he would want you to do that, smiling.

I never remember him entering a room without a smile. It was one of primary tonics for a meaningful life. All of us miss him terribly but what we must do now is to carry on inspired by his memory and good acts and being at peace in the knowledge that he now is in peace.

So, I hope this helps you.

Bill, from Virginia writes:
What was your toughest moment in President Reagan's press shop? Thanks for answering our questions today. President Reagan was a wonderful man and a great leader.

Peter Roussel

In the office of the Press Secretary in the Reagan Administration, just like in many Administrations, was a very busy place where we sometimes dealt with rapidly changing stories and developing issues in rapid succession.

But it is that pace and the variety of dealing with so many different situations that makes it such a fascinating office in which to work.

I recommend it highly for those who like long hours, hard work, lots of challenges and an environment where one never has to worry about being bored.

My toughest moment was in October 1983. We were in Augusta, Georgia where the President was playing golf. Late in the afternoon, a gunman in a truck crashed through the front gate and ended up holding hostages in the pro shop including two members of the White House staff.

Fortunately the gunman was later subdued without doing harm to anyone and a tense situation was resolved.

As a result, however, I had to conduct two unexpected press briefings about this incident and it was late into the night before we were finished.

When I finally got into my room near midnight, I received a report that 250 Marines had just been killed in Lebanon. As a result, I had to return to the press room in the hotel and brief the reporters on that situation.

With all of these unexpected developments, it was decided to cut our trip short and return immediately to Washington which we did at 4:30am. What was supposed to be a calm weekend with the President playing golf, turned into an extremely busy and pressure filled one for his press spokesman – me.

Eric, from Manhattan writes:
Peter, if Ronald Reagan could share one last piece of wisdom, say one more thing to the people of a nation he loved so much, what do you think that he would say to us?

Thank you.

Peter Roussel
Hi Eric

President Reagan was one of the most eloquent orators in the history of the American Presidency. And I think he might answer that by saying that we live in a great country with many freedoms that we should never take for granted and have been preserved by the sacrifices of many great Americans.

Yes, there are some problems that tend to turn people off. And yes, there are some excesses that tend to turn people off. But we have a country and a system of government that are unique – so much so that we must be doing something right because we have a system that has survived for over 200 years.

Richard, from Estes Park writes:
Dear Mr. Roussel

What was the defining moment of the Reagan Administration?

Thank you for your time.

Peter Roussel
Hi Richard

I’m always leery of citing one instance as a defining moment. I tend to think of defining moments as works in progress. But I do think that when President Reagan stood toe-to-toe with Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva at their first meeting in 1985, he showed the Russians, his critics and the world that he was a man of conviction and vision.

What followed after that ultimately was the end of the Cold War. I think that meeting in Geneva and the determination that Ronald Reagan displayed there started the wheels in motion.

Jasmine, from Salt Lake City, Utah writes:
It seemed like President Reagan was always optimistic and always good-hearted. Was he always that way in private?

Peter Roussel
Hi Jasmine

Absolutely he was the most buoyant, spirited individual I had ever been around.

What you saw in public was exactly what you saw in private – a sincere, genuine, compassionate man with an incredible sense of humor. He was the greatest story and joke teller I’ve ever known. A smile was a regular part of his facial expression.

jake, from new york writes:
what is your favorite memory with President Reagan?

Peter Roussel
Hi Jake

It’s always hard to cite just one – there are so many that flood into memory. And I find that events of this week are turning my thoughts back to many of these memories.

Perhaps the most personal for me was when my late mother who was then 85 years old took her first plane ride ever as a guest of President Reagan on Air Force One. Later that week, with her being in Washington DC for her first time ever, he invited her to visit with him in the Oval Office.

That was one of the most special moments in her life and certainly in mine.

Blake, from Inman, South Carolina writes:
I am 15 years old so that means that i really never got to see the good ol' Ronald Regan but what i have seen through the media is something out of this world. My question is if there is one last change that he could make in America, what do you think it would be?

Peter Roussel
Hi Blake

I think President Reagan would hope that the American people -- regardless of one’s political persuasion – would continue to remember and appreciate what a bountiful and blessed country this is in which we live.

If he could change anything else, I know he would hope for an America free of any forms of hatred or divisiveness, where people from all walks of life could live in peace, harmony and unity.

And remember President Reagan came from humble roots – a small town in Illinois. But he believed in the American work ethic and by doing so succeeded in not just one but two very successful public careers.

Jeff, from writes:
Mr. Roussel My wife and I admire President Reagan's legacy. We had prayed for him off and on after learning of his diagnosis. We understand he had a strong faith, did he ever discuss this with you?

Thank you

Jeff Davis

Peter Roussel
Hi Jeff

He was not prone to discuss that much but would evidence it in other ways. I remember one day in a meeting when the room fell silent as we were discussing a situation. No one spoke but finally President Reagan turned his head and said “I’m looking upward.” And I knew exactly what he meant.

That to me was how he demonstrated his faith.

Danielle, from Waynesboro, PA writes:
Ronald Reagan was an amazing man and a wonderful president. What do you think he was most proud of accomplishing during is presidency? God Bless

the Reagan family.

Peter Roussel
Hi Danielle

By his leadership, he restored respect for America and most importantly re-instilled pride in Americans for their country.

By his conviction, and by his firm belief in the strong defense capability, he changed the world and in his time we saw the end of the Cold War. Who would have thought it possible? President Reagan did.

Kayla, from Bentonville, AR writes:
Did President Reagan allow his faith to guide the decisions he made from the Oval Office? Thank You. God Bless.

Peter Roussel
Hi Kayla

President Reagan was a man of faith and deeply held beliefs. Such inner strength I think greatly benefited him in making the difficult decisions a President sometimes has to make in providing leadership for our country.

I cited in one of my other responses a specific example.

Thanks for your question

Jacob, from Louisville, KY writes:
How would you, knowing Reagan personally, rate him with such great Presidents, such as: Washington, Lincoln, F. D. Roosevelt, etc?

Peter Roussel
Hi Jacob

In my lifetime, the first President of whom I was truly aware was President Truman. I think it is fair to say he guided this country in a very crucial time in its history -- emerging from WWII. That is indelible in my mind because I had a brother 18 years older than myself who was lost in that conflict while serving in the Pacific as a radio gunner on a B-29.

Since then, I’ve had a chance to observe all the succeeding Presidents. In my view, history will ultimately record President Reagan as one of the greatest Presidents of the 20th century and his time in office as one of great significance in the course of world history.

Zach, from Saluda, South Carolina writes:
Dear Mr. Roussel, I am a fourteen year old from South Carolina, so obviously I did not witness the Reagan presidency. My question is this: What do you think was the single greatest contribution President Reagan made to our nation?

Peter Roussel
Hi Zach

In my view, those accomplishments would be restoring pride in our country and helping to bring an end to the Cold War.

I think he would also enjoy visiting with a 14 year old from South Carolina named Zach and learning about his interests. And I betcha he would have had some great stories to tell you. He was a great storyteller.

Joe, from Spring Hill, Florida writes:
Mr. Rousell, President Reagan is admired by us all for so many reasons. What is it that you, personally, admired most about President Reagan?

Peter Roussel
Hi Joe

Often you knew he was coming down the hall in the West Wing because you could hear laughter. His upbeat optimistic view of life and all the challenges he had to face was inspiring in ways to us all that I find difficult to explore in these words.

But I think if you had been there you would have known what I mean.

Tony, from Los Angeles, CA writes:
Who were some of the President's speech writers?

Peter Roussel
Hi Tony

During my tenure in the White House, the director of the speechwriter's office was Ben Elliot. Another speechwriter was Dana Rohrabacher who is now a Congressman from California. Peggy Noonan who often appears on TV was a speechwriter and has gone on to write several books.

President Reagan contributed himself to many of his speeches and in my view there has never been a more inspiring President in the delivery of a speech.

Glen, from San Rafael, Ca. writes:
I am wondering why the government is taking the day off this Friday? I know it's in honor of a good man, but do you really think that Mr. Reagan would have wanted this? It seems to me that it goes against everything he stood for.

Peter Roussel
Hi Glen

I think this is President Bush's and the nation's way of honoring a President who played a significant role in the history of the country in the latter part of the 20th century.

Knowing his penchant for humor, I think President Reagan would hope that somewhere along in the way in all the eulogies, someone might offer a bit of humor representative of that which characterized the spirit of the man.

Peter Roussel
I want to thank everyone for all of these great questions. They were all excellent and insightful. It was an honor for me to answer. I hope in my answering them that you got a bit more of an insight into the life and career and the Presidency of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. It was my great honor to serve under him. Thanks very much.

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