Monday, September 22, 2003 Posted: 0805 GMT ( 4:05 PM HKT)
Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A newly published collection of Ronald Reagan's letters shows the former president was a prolific correspondent, reaching out in his own hand to the leader of the Soviet Union, a young boy who became his pen-pal and ordinary Americans he never knew.
"Reagan: A Life in Letters," which was released Sunday, was culled from more than 5,000 personal missives he wrote over his lifetime. His wife, Nancy, said Sunday that he would write letters "anywhere," even while relaxing at Camp David or riding in a car.
"He liked to write. He didn't like the phone at all, but he liked to write and always has," she told ABC's This Week. "Anybody could be doing whatever they wanted to do, but he would be writing."
Nancy Reagan, who cooperated with the editors who put the collection together, said she hoped the letters would show "the charm, the humor, the intelligence -- the wise man that he is."
"I think it was important for people to get to know Ronnie, understand Ronnie, and what better way than to read the letters that he's written in his own hand," she said.
The collection, detailed in the latest edition of Time magazine, includes one letter showing that Reagan may have been rethinking U.S.-Soviet relations early in his first term, well before the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev and glasnost.
While recovering from the 1981 assassination attempt that nearly killed him, Reagan wrote a four-page letter to then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev:
"My dear Mr. President, is it possible that we have let ideology, political and economical philosophy and governmental policies keep us from considering the very real everyday problems of the people we represent?"
According to Time, Reagan's aides objected to the personal nature of the letter, and the State Department came up with another draft. But the president insisted on sending both letters.
Reagan also struck up a pen-pal relationship with a boy in Washington named Rudy, who was just six or seven years old when they began corresponding.
"Rudy would write him and ask him, or tell him, about his school work or what he was doing in school," Nancy Reagan told ABC. "Ronnie would write him and tell him, when we'd gotten back from a trip, about the trip and what he'd seen."
As president, Reagan also asked the head of his correspondence unit to pick out 10 letters a week and give them to him. He would write a personal response to each one, she said.
"He didn't know the people. But they would ask him questions, and he'd straighten them out, give them his view of whatever it was they asked," she said.
According to Time, the first trove of Reagan's letters was discovered in 1996 by Kiron Skinner, who was researching a book on the Cold War. Eventually, more than 5,000 letters were found, and the editors of the collection believe another 3,000 or 4,000 letters may be unaccounted for.
Reagan didn't type, so he wrote by hand, usually in blue or black ink on yellow legal pads, according to Time. Other letters were dictated to secretaries to transcribe.
Reagan's last public statement was a poignant farewell letter he wrote in 1994, when he disclosed he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Nancy Reagan said "could never understand" why some people thought that he didn't write it.
"If you read the letter, that's Ronnie, that's Ronnie's writing," she told ABC.
Asked about the condition of the former president, now 92, she said, "He's doing as well as can be expected."
I liked Ronald Reagan, I think he did some good -- of course, he did make some mistakes here and there. Don't all presidents do?