Former Reagan Official Recalls White House Years
April 02, 2012
by Jackie Kapnis
After working for Ronald Reagan in the White House for four years, Joanne Drake learned more about him than his love for jellybeans.
"I look back on my White House years and I have very fond memories," Drake, now chief administrative officer of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, said. "He wasn't only bold in speech, he was a man very strong in conviction."
Drake shared her professional and personal stories of the 40th president during a visit to Stonehill College last week.
Drake served in various positions with President Reagan since 1984, when she joined the re-election campaign in Washington, D.C.
Drake said she loved being a part of Reagan's career.
"It's been a real pleasure. Twenty-eight years of my entire adult life has been serving them and their legacy and I don't regret one day of it," Drake said. "That isn't to say I didn't have some very challenging days, but I wouldn't give any of them back."
Following Reagan's re-election, Drake was assigned to the Office of Presidential Advance.
"We were handling logistics for all of the president's trips across the country and across the world - and we did it without a Blackberry and without an iPhone," Drake said. "In fact we did it without a cell phone. We used a fax machine. Does anyone know what a fax machine is?"
Drake had simple advice for those interested in working for a politician.
"It needs to be someone you believe in. It needs to be someone you agree with and get along with on a personal level," she said. "It will make it a lot easier to put up with what goes on every day because the White House is a 24/7 operation."
Drake recalled a memorable moment on her birthday when she was in Venice, Italy, while working for Reagan. Drake said she was sitting on the patio of her hotel on the Grand Canal enjoying a cup of coffee when she heard a familiar song.
"When I looked up, singing to me was the president of the United States. He sang the whole song. And let me just tell you, I was as red as a Red Sox jacket," Drake said.
Another time, she was with Reagan when he made the speech calling for Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.
"I'll tell you, at the time, we knew it was important that he do it but we didn't know how it would resonate with the world," she said. "And obviously it has become one of his most famous speeches because of what he did and the leadership he exhibited."
Drake said Reagan had a great sense of humor and was proficient in writing.
She said the atmosphere in Washington, D.C., today appears to be one of policy gridlock.
"I think if Ronald Regan were in the White House things would be a little different in Washington right now. He was a man of compromise," she said.
"Of course, he felt very strongly about how things should be for this country, but he was a pragmatist and he knew you couldn't get everything you wanted every time you went to the table," Drake said.
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