Leadership is for Kids From One to Ninety Two

Imagine you’re Ronald Reagan when he was 65 years old. You have just dedicated the last 20 years of your life implementing a policy of political leadership you hope will help your country and the world. All of your efforts to touch hearts and garner support comes down to a single vote at the national convention in 1976. The vote is 1,187 to 1,070 … and you lose.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan holding hands and smiling at Camp David
Ronald Reagan (at age 70) at Camp David with Nancy Reagan, Photo courtesy of Ronald Reagan Library

Losing the primary at 65

Reagan had just lost the convention vote to be the presidential nominee to Gerald Ford. Reagan was 65 years old and had the financial security to retire in style. He had a large family, lots of friends, good health and many interests. He loved to spend time on his beautiful Rancho del Cielo in California, riding horses and working chores.  Ronald Reagan must have been tempted to ride off into the sunset and spend the rest of his days in well-earned retirement. Instead, he summoned the energy to put forth yet another campaign, and 4 years later became the oldest person elected President of the United States of America. Why did he keep leading? And why should we?

Why did he keep leading? And why should we?

Why should we put forth the effort to:

  • Establish one more relationship,
  • Begin one more project, or
  • Create one more company?

For Reagan, he was motivated by the notion of fulfilling the reason he was put on earth. In May of 1988 at Moscow State University he said, “Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.”

Reagan believed that we make a living by what we get – and a life by what we give. And he respected those who served others. Both he and Mother Theresa were 74 years old when he presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At the White House in 1985, he said, “This is the first time I’ve given the Medal of Freedom with the intuition that the recipient might take it home, melt it down and turn it into something that can be sold to help the poor.” Mother Theresa would go on to live another 12 years, accomplishing incredible things throughout the world.

Smile when they say you’re too old to lead

At the Annual Salute to Congress Dinner in February 1981, Reagan said, One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson is when he said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, but by his acts.’ And ever since he told me that…   By poking fun at his own age, he was poking fun in general, at our notion of age.

Smile when they say you’re too young.

Reagan did not associate maturity with age. At his commencement address to the young college graduates at Eureka College in 1982, he said, “Maturity is a matter of becoming comfortable with yourself, with the world around you, as time moves on and circumstances change.” Despite his very humble beginnings, Reagan was tremendously successful in his early twenties, becoming one of the top sports announcers in the country for college football and major league baseball.

Poking fun at 75

Reagan liked to poke fun of his age, as he did on his birthday in 1986: “I did turn seventy-five today, but remember, that’s only twenty-four Celsius.”

And when he signed into law the Alternative Motor Fuels Act of 1988 Reagan said, “This bill is a landmark in the quest for alternative forms of energy. And believe me, when you’re my age, you just love hearing about alternative sources of energy.”

Contrary to his own self-efacing humor, Reagan had an enormous amount of energy. Many people half his age were unable to keep up with his physical regimen. Contrary to media reports, Reagan never felt the need for taking naps. (On a side note, also contrary to media reports, Reagan never wore makeup – even during his acting days.) But he did stay physically active each day, whether doing physical work-outs in the White House or working hard at his ranch.

In his 70’s Ronald Reagan seemed a young man, both physically and mentally. And, when the matter of age came up, he promised not to make a campaign issue out of his opponent’s youth and inexperience. After that, nobody else did either.

Leadership is for kids from one to ninety two

Into his late 70s, Ronald Reagan remained one of the greatest leaders of the 20th Century. So, if you are someone who legendary singer Nat King Cole described as a kid from one to ninety two, it’s time for you to remain one of the greatest leaders of the 21st Century!

For more of my articles on President Reagan, click here.    

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