Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Memorial Service Honoring Malcolm Baldrige

July 29, 1987

Midge, Megan, Molly, distinguished ladies and gentlemen: The day I called Mac Baldrige to ask him to join the Cabinet, I was told by Midge I would have to call back later. He was out on his horse roping and couldn't come to the phone. Right then I knew he was the kind of man I wanted.

It's a gift to be simple, we're told. If that means to hold simple, strong, and decent values, Mac had that gift. You could see it in the way he moved around the White House. He seemed to know everyone, not just those in the public eye but the secretaries and assistants, as well. And he treated everyone with the same measure of courtesy and respect, from his driver to the President. He never judged a man or woman by rank or trappings. Despite his many remarkable successes, worldly success was not the way he measured people. No, money was not, position was not, qualities of character were. Honesty, courage, industry, and humility—these were his yardsticks. And if you had these simple qualities, you'd made it in his eyes, whether you were rich or poor, famous or unknown.

Language was one way he decided if you were his kind of person. It's well known now that he insisted on simple language in memos at the Commerce Department. He banned phrases that were vague or redundant. He once said that the thing he liked about cowboys was that they didn't talk unless they had something to say, and when they said something, they meant it. To him, simple language did not mark a simple mind, but a strong and fearless one. It was a sign of those who didn't hide their meaning behind a cloud of ambiguous words.

Mac, of course, never hid his opinions. Even if the tide was against him, he was forceful and clear and unflinching. I always knew where he stood, and so did the country. I could always count on him for the truth as he saw it, no matter how unpleasant or unpopular. There were times the Cabinet came down on an issue 12 to 1, and he was on the short end. But I knew that if he believed something that others didn't he wouldn't reign himself in and follow the herd. He would step forward and be clear.

What I'm saying about Mac Baldrige adds up to a simple but extraordinary quality that I would call, more than anything else, American. In his directness, in his honesty, in his independence, in his disregard for rank, in his courage, he embodied the best of the American spirit. I suppose we think of that spirit as living most of all in cowboys. And that's why I've always suspected that it was more than just roping and his place here in Washington that got Mac voted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. He belonged there. It was in his blood. It was in his heart and soul.

Let me say a word about his many contributions to his country. These were not simple, although they were built on simple principles, principles like his reverence for the independence of the American character, for the freedom that lets independence flourish, and for the opportunities of a free society. Mac was an architect of American international economic policy during years in which that policy moved to center stage. He also helped shape our policy towards East-West trade in a period in which that was a source of new questions and concerns. And perhaps the least recognized of his major achievements was the securing of trade ties with China. In just 4 years since his 1983 visit to China, trade has become a pillar of the Sino-American relationship.

To contribute so much required skill and persistence—qualities Mac had in abundance. It also required vision, vision not only for dealing with immediate issues but for the future of the entire world and its economy, as well. I always prized the quality of Mac's vision. He had the capacity to look up from the dust of the plains to the distant mountains. He never forgot that all the skirmishes and battles over trade policy that we have here in Washington and around the world have one final goal: We're building a world in which our children and grandchildren will live. And we who love freedom and revere the dignity of humanity have a sacred duty to make that an open world of real hope and abundant opportunity, a world in which the spirit of freedom-yes, what you might call that part of the American spirit that lives in all of mankind—in which that spirit can ride across an open range towards the peaks beyond.

I'm told that Mac's staff had orders to interrupt him at whatever time of the day with calls from only two people. I was one, and any cowboy who rang up was the other. Well, I'm honored to have been in that company. Mac, as we know, left us while he was doing what he loved most. And now, whenever any of us wants to ring him up, we'll have to remind ourselves that he's out on a horse somewhere, and we'll just have to wait. Yet in his simplicity, he has entered the company of the men and women who have shaped our nation and its destiny, and he will live in that company forever.

Yes, there is sorrow, but the sorrow is with us and for us. We must believe that door is opened that God promised and he has just gone through that door into another life, where there is no more pain, no more sorrow. And we must believe that we, too, will one day go through that door and join him again. Thank you. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:12 a.m. at the National Cathedral. In his opening remarks, he referred to Mr. Baldrige's wife and daughters.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Memorial Service Honoring Malcolm Baldrige Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives