Little Rock Look Back: President Ronald W. Reagan

RWR 40On February 6, 1911, future U.S. President Ronald Wilson Reagan was born. His life took him from small town Illinois, to Hollywood in the last days of the Golden Age of the studio system, to politics, to the California State House, to the White House.

On November 3, 1984, he became the first sitting U.S. President to spend a night in Little Rock. He stayed at the Excelsior Hotel (now Marriott Downtown) before making a campaign speech on November 4.  His only special requests for the room were jelly beans and ginger ale.  His speech was in the Statehouse Convention Center, which had opened less than two years earlier.

In 1980, Reagan had become only the third Republican to win Arkansas’ electoral votes (after Grant in 1868 and 1872 and Nixon in 1972). He was expected to easily win them again in 1984.  The main purpose of his speech on the Saturday before election Day was to drum up support for other GOP candidates in the state.  While he carried the state and the electoral votes, none of his preferred candidates won their races in 1984.

Four years later, on October 27, 1988, he flew in to Little Rock to make remarks at Central Flying Service. The purpose this time was to campaign on behalf of GOP nominee George H. W. Bush. As Reagan had done in 1980 and 1984, Bush carried the state and won the Presidency.

In 1992, after native son Bill Clinton defeated Bush in his bid for re-election, Reagan welcomed Clinton to his office in Los Angeles.  Having served as Governor of California, he was able to relate to Clinton’s impending transition from Governor to President.

In 2004, months before the Clinton Library opened, Reagan succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease.  He had publicly disclosed he had the illness in 1994 during the second year of Clinton’s first term.  Though the Clinton Library was not open yet, the Clinton Foundation set up a memorial book at Curran Hall for people to stop by and sign. The book was then sent to the Reagan Presidential Library.