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President Ronald Reagan's death on June 5, 2004, caused me to do some reminiscing in my June 13 column:

A note from a friend

The events of the past week had me dusting off an old scrapbook and re-reading a letter from more than a quarter-century ago.

It was early December of 1978, and I was still recovering from my first unsuccessful attempt at running for public office, when a simple letter arrived in my mailbox.

"Dear Bob," the letter began, "I was disappointed to learn the outcome of your race."

The writer knew a lot about disappointing races – he had been an unsuccessful candidate for public office just two years earlier.

"While I'm sure you are disappointed in the outcome of the election," he continued, "you can be proud of your leadership in fighting for principles we both believe in."

Anyone who has put their heart and soul into a campaign knows the discouragement that can come with defeat. You wonder if it was worth the effort. The letter writer, however, would have none of that. Forever the optimist, he went on to say, "I urge you to stay in politics. Your continued leadership is vital to all of us."

You have no idea how encouraging those words were at that time in my life. Especially gratifying was the closing note: "When I can help, please call."

Inspired in part by that letter, two years later I celebrated my election to the Minnesota House of Representatives. The man who had taken the time to help me keep going was also rejoicing in his own victory at the polls.

That letter was signed:

Ronald Reagan signature

The impact of Mr. Reagan's words continue to motivate me today with the knowledge that one man or woman truly can make a difference in the world.

Just a few months prior to signing that letter, Ronald Reagan had made his now-famous "city on a hill" speech: "…We must shoulder our burden with our eyes fixed on the future, but recognizing the realities of today, not counting on mere hope or wishes. We must be willing to carry out our responsibility as the custodian of individual freedom. Then we will achieve our destiny to be as a shining city on a hill for all mankind to see."

About the time I took office, President Reagan's first inaugural address was echoing that belief in the importance of individual action:

"Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors."

Those words, of course, have taken on new meaning in the wake of September 11, 2001.

Even in his 1994 announcement that he had Alzheimer's disease, Ronald Reagan's optimism continued to shine:

"When the Lord calls me home, whenever that day may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future."

Rest in peace, Mr. President.

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