Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Design of Ronald Reagan's Presidential Library

After many years my wife and I have managed to find the time to visit the two presidential libraries we are so fortunate to have in California. We visited the Nixon library first and in many ways I was disappointed (I wrote about that visit earlier). It seemed that while they did a wonderful job discussing his family and his own childhood history, it quickly degenerated to Nixon "light" when he entered politics. Whether you like him or not, there was much that he did and accomplished in politics. He was the first president ever to take the initiative to visit China, started the Environmental Protection Agency, made a stab at universal healthcare, even proposed a minimum income for working families. For the Communist debater that he was, to visit China as well as Russia WAS an accomplishment. 

The only place you see him unvarnished and almost naked is in the Watergate section, surely one of the most painful moments in American history. You felt that so many opportunities were lost, so many chances to fulfill his goals as president were never accomplished. As a museum it begged AND begs for a better story teller.

There was no such problem with the Reagan Library. From the moment you enter the grounds and take in the vista beyond to the well oiled machinery that is the library, you see what good "design" really is. Its not just a path around, it is an engaging path with print, video, photos that constantly not only show the man but in quotes "define" the man. It is fitting that the Great Communicator has such a home. The library communicates!

I remember seeing him on TV as a child. I was so impressed when he was a speaker at my "tech" high school in Portland, OR when tech meant that you had the option to learn a trade or went on the college prep course that still included lots of shops before you got out the door.

He had a constituency long before he ever ran for anything. He was a spokesman for GE visiting everyone of their plants and speaking to their workers, not just the managers.

He was on TV once a week with the GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATRE and of course his old movies played on Friday nights at midnight.

After a two year stint in the Peace Corps brought me via a job transfer to California in late 1970, I was able to watch his rise first as governor and then as a presidential candidate, and finally president.

Seeing his life stitched together in the library you felt that there had to have been some kind of design to his life...or was there?

Does life have a design, does it always have a plan or does it just happen? His life was filled with many opportunities and he took them all. Maybe that was the design! If an opportunity arises, take it.

I think that as a creative type there is much to learn from him. When you are invited to take a class, when there is a convention that could be beneficial, when you get the guts to stretch your talents and teach, these are all opportunities. Whether you take advantage of these opportunities or not is up to you. After a visit to the Reagan Library, I can tell you I saw the life of man who seized just about every opportunity given to him. I believe that was his design. I believe this is a lesson for us all.

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