Public Papers

Remarks at the Unveiling Ceremony for the Official Portraits of Ronald and Nancy Reagan


President Bush. What a wonderful welcome back to the White House for the Reagans. When the announcer here said, ``Mr. President,'' why, I fell back to where I comfortably was for 8 years -- [laughter] -- and seemed most appropriate.

And it's a joy to welcome the President and Mrs. Reagan back here. And to Ms. Petrie, Mr. Shikler, so many members of the Reagan administration and members of the White House Historical Association, and to all of you, it's a pleasure to have you with us today as we properly salute these two very special people, the President and First Lady, who helped bring greatness to our country and, certainly, grace to America's House.

And, Mr. President, you did make this nation strong, respected abroad; and because of your leadership, America stood tall then, stands tall now. And I really believe that history will record that you, more than any individual, helped stimulate the changes that we're all fascinated with and that's taking place all around the world today, changes for the democracy that you've spoke about over and over and over again.

And, Nancy, Barbara and I are just delighted to see you. How we enjoy this house whose beauty you enhanced so much! And you know, over the years there have been many wonderful Presidents and First Ladies, but thanks to you, I don't believe this place has ever had a better team. And I know that America will not soon forget your courage amid adversity, your love of your husband, and certainly your love of country. It's really good to have you both back. You can tell that California agrees with them, just looking at them. [Laughter]

But these portraits were painted by the noted artist Aaron Shikler. They are donated jointly to the White House for its permanent art collection by the Petrie Foundation and the White House Historical Association.

Mr. President, these portraits will remind future generations about two of its greats. Look at the portrait of our 40th Chief Executive, which will be hung on the State Floor with the other 20th-century Presidents. It reflects the qualities that make him so special: kindness, gallantry, decency, and humor. And then, look then at the portrait of Mrs. Reagan. It will hang in the Ground Floor Corridor with those of the most recent former First Ladies. Here stands a person who refurbished the White House with grace and with elegance, who helped millions of Americans say no to drugs and started what has become a real crusade across our country -- thank God -- no to drugs and yes to life.

You know, for years our opponents were hoping to see President Reagan's back against the wall here in the White House. I don't think this is exactly what they had in mind when they talked about it -- [laughter] -- but it is most fitting.

Mr. President, you are one of the most beloved Presidents in the history of the Republic. And as friends, Barbara and I cherish both you and Nancy. What you began, I really want to build on and keep America, as you often said, ``that shining city on a hill.''

And so, it's now my official honor and pleasure to present the official portraits of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan.

President Reagan. Thank you. And, Nancy, don't fail to take a look. They're sure different than a lot of those cartoons we had to put up with. [Laughter]

Well, George and Barbara and distinguished guests, as Henry VIII said to each one of his six wives, I won't keep you long. [Laughter] My days of speechmaking here are over, but I do want to share a few thoughts with you on this very special day in Nancy's and my life.

Incidentally, I want to say here -- with the very kind things that George was saying -- I think attention has to be called to the fact that whatever we accomplished, Vice President George Bush was a major part of everything we did.

Maybe it's because my staff is a bit smaller now than it used to be, but I can't really find the words to express how I feel to be back here in this house. [Laughter] I suspect, though, that the reason I can't find the words is because there are really no words to convey what it means to Nancy and me to be here.

To walk in these hallowed halls again and to see all of you brings back so many memories of success and disappointment, of triumph and tragedy, of great joy and, yes, even some tears. But more than anything else, we're overwhelmed by the memory of the great sense of purpose that we all shared. Well, all of us who served here together were a part of a great undertaking: a chance to serve our fellow countrymen and, hopefully, with a little luck and a lot of help from God, make our country stronger and make the world a better place. And I think that, looking back, we did just that; and I'll always be proud of what we all accomplished together. To live in this great house, this unique American symbol of freedom and democracy, is a special privilege and a sacred trust. To work here, too, is an opportunity which few have; but for those who do, we're forever linked in the great adventure known as history.

We gather today not to honor any individuals -- though we are enormously grateful to the White House Historical Association and the Petrie Foundation for making possible this ceremony. We gather today to look back with great fondness at a time in our lives that, no matter where we go, will always be special. And no matter what we do, so, too, will the memory of today be special and one that we'll carry with us in our hearts always.

There aren't any words to describe what this is like. Nancy and I will be looking at each other on the plane going back and trying to think of something. But just know how deeply grateful we are, how honored we are, and how much we shall cherish the memory of this moment forever.

God bless you all, and thank you all very much.

Note: President Bush spoke at 2:37 p.m. on the State Floor at the White House.