By TESS KENNY
On Feb. 6, 1911, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, IL. Some 109 years later, over 200 people gathered at the Reagan Ranch Center on Thursday to celebrate the president at Young America’s Foundation’s first Wendy P. McCaw roundtable luncheon of 2020.
Heading the luncheon was former Virginia Gov. George Allen, who spoke fondly of the Republican leader as not just a mentor but a friend. Following the lecture, guests were invited to enjoy an open house commemorating President Reagan, as well as a book signing event with Susan Allen, the governor’s wife of 25 years.
As Virginia’s governor from 1994 to 1998, Mr. Allen implemented measures to track educational achievement in public schools and reformed the state’s welfare system. Apart from his work in the state legislature, Mr. Allen also served in both bodies of U.S. Congress and as a delegate holding Thomas Jefferson’s seat in the Virginia General Assembly.
Prior to his work in politics, however, Mr. Allen was fairly removed from what was going on in government affairs. Becoming more involved was something he actually owed to Mr. Reagan, a fact he graciously pointed to throughout the event.
“Speaking today was so heartening because (Mr. Reagan) is the one who motivated me to get involved with organized politics,” Mr. Allen later told the News-Press. “There’s no better place to be than right here talking about my hero.”
Mr. Allen opened his speech with a story detailing his first encounter with the president, who was well on his way to becoming California’s governor at the time. In 1966, Mr. Allen and his family moved to California after his father became the head coach for the L.A. Rams. Soon after, Mr. Allen found himself at practice standing next to none other than Ronald Reagan.
“I was shoulder to shoulder with my father examining players and asking about training techniques,” said Mr. Allen. “For me, I saw a politician who doesn’t care about 50-yard line seats. He was actually at practice trying to understand it.”
Growing up in a football family, that’s the world Mr. Allen knew. Watching Mr. Reagan on the field that day, Mr. Allen said he realized the politician understood what was really important –- football, warranting laughs from the crowd.
Through high school and his tenure at the University of Virginia, Mr. Allen continued to follow Mr. Reagan move up the levels of government. But as a history major and avid rancher, Mr. Allen kept his space from activism. That is, until Mr. Reagan contacted Mr. Allen himself.
“Ronald called and asked if I would head up the Young Republicans for Reagan,” said Mr. Allen. “I said, ‘Thank you Governor for the honor, but I know nothing about politics. I just like football, hunting, having fun and not getting caught.’”
While admittedly reluctant, Mr. Allen took the presidential hopeful up on his request, marking the start of a lifelong career in politics.
Using football as a recurring theme throughout his speech, Mr. Allen continued to remember Mr. Reagan like a teammate. Beyond politics or identity, Mr. Allen looked up to the president for his enduring devotion to teamwork.
“The thing about Ronald as a sportsman is that he understood the meritocracy of sports,” said Mr. Allen. “If you think of sports teams…they don’t care about what race someone is, what country they’re from or their religion. All you care about is if they can help the team win.
“That’s what we should aspire to, and I think that’s what Ronald Reagan aspired to in our society,” Mr. Allen continued. “(He believed) that everyone, regardless of their background, has an equal opportunity to compete and succeed on a level, free market playing field.”
Mr. Allen went on to explain how he thinks Mr. Reagan would reconcile with what’s going on with the United States today.
While Mr. Reagan and President Trump may differ in personality, the former governor highlighted the ways in which the two leaders are alike. Touching on Tuesday’s State of the Union, tax reform and national defense, among other topics, Mr. Allen explained how the modern Republican party has stayed true to what Mr. Reagan left behind.
Above all else, he recognized a sense of progression in each of the two presidents, whom he believed both looked back on their terms to ask if the country was better off than it had been four years prior.
“Reagan was the first one who wanted to make America great again. That’s what Donald Trump said as a candidate and as now as president,” he said.
Departing from politics, Mr. Allen closed by thanking YAF for their continued support. As YAF’s current Reagan Ranch Presidential Scholar, the former governor recognized the organization for upholding his mentor’s legacy.
“This is where you learn about that genuine man,” he said. “(The man) who liked to ride horses and watch the Super Bowl with secret service agents.”
Wendy McCaw is a co-publisher of the News Press.