Former President Ronald Reagan was a man of “incredible faith” who did not wear his religious conviction on his sleeve and welcomed everybody, said the keynote speaker for the annual prayer breakfast at the YMCA of the Foothills.
Author Peggy Grande, who was an executive assistant to Reagan after his presidency and is now a Fox News opinion writer, described the 40th president — who died in 2004 — to an appreciative audience of hundreds and cited ways in which she believed his life is worth emulating.
The event, proceeds from which go to the YMCA’s chaplain services program, was held on Nov. 7 in the gymnasium at the Crescenta-Cañada branch in La Cañada Flintridge.
Reagan “allowed other people to have differences of opinion and differences of faith and was always very open and welcome to that,” said Grande, a La Cañada Flintridge resident. “I admired and appreciated that as well.”
She added that Reagan “interfaced” with the world and received such diverse figures as former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa in his office.
“It was not because they had to [visit]; it was because they wanted to,” Grande said. “They had a relationship with him and our leadership role should look a lot like relationships. Not like rhetoric … it shouldn’t look political, it should look very personal. And Ronald Reagan is a great example of that.”
Grande said she was a Pepperdine University senior studying communications when she wrote to Reagan’s office, asking to work for him in Los Angeles in a post-presidency capacity. She received a call offering her an internship that later turned into an executive assistant position.
“I never could have fathomed how this ordinary girl could wind up in such an extraordinary place,” Grande said. “But God has a plan for everything and so only he could have orchestrated the path that was laid out before me.”
She described Reagan as representing everything she loved, a model of political influence, faith, character and integrity.
“He was kind, he was warm, he was gracious, he was welcoming,” Grande said. “There was no disconnect between his public persona and his private persona. I loved being able to witness that firsthand.”
She added that she learned one’s legacy is not something that’s written after the person has died. In Reagan’s case, she saw it behind the scenes every day, whether he was interacting with a little boy who had the developmental disorder Asperger syndrome or saluting a military hero.
“This is a man we look to because he was writing the legacy of his life with every single day of his life,” Grande said. “My challenge to each one of us is to think about that. If that scares you a little bit, realize that everything can start fresh and anew today. You too are writing the legacy of your life.”
Later, YMCA of the Foothills’ departing president and CEO, Tyler Wright, was given a certificate of recognition from the LCF City Council for his contributions to the community. Wright’s final day was last Friday, Nov. 8; he next will lead the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette in Portland, Oregon.
After the event, Wright said he was surprised to be given the award.
“I would say embarrassed and grateful, obviously,” he said. “I think it’s fitting that my last event is the prayer breakfast.”
He said the move to Portland would be “challenging” but it was time to move on.
“I thought it was time for me and I also thought it was a good time for the Y,” Wright said. “I think we’ve done some amazing work and I think it’s time for somebody else to come in with a fresh voice.”
Comedian Ron Pearson, master of ceremonies, helped move the event along with jokes and stories. Early in the program, he said he was the baby of eight children, which he described as a “regular Catholic family or a really small Mormon family — I’m not sure. Two of the kids in my family were adopted. My parents never told us which two. That will mess you up.”
After the program, he said he enjoyed the gig.
“It’s just nice to see so many people put spiritual things at a level of importance,” Pearson said. “That’s very rare in today’s society, in my opinion.”
He described Wright leaving as a “loss for the community … but I love what he’s doing. He’s doing what God is telling him to do.”
Grande said afterward she enjoyed the hometown event because it brought together people from differing political and faith backgrounds and walks of life.
“There’s so much of life today that is toxic and negative and fear based and creating doubt [that it’s great] to be in a space where we’re celebrating optimism and hope and the things that are good in our community,” Grande said.
She said she would miss Wright but wished him well in his new role.
“Everybody considers Tyler to be their best friend,” Grande said. “So we feel a personal loss as well as a professional loss. But our loss is Portland’s gain and he will continue to do good work for the Y, and so we celebrate that.”
Jeanne Hobson, the YMCA’s immediate past board chair, was named interim CEO on Oct. 14. She said it had been 10 years since the YMCA looked for a candidate to fill the position permanently.
“We want to take our time,” she said when asked when a replacement might be installed.
Scott Young, a member of YMCA board, said the event raised $47,000-$48,000 besides revenue from tickets sales and whatever was donated.