RALEIGH, N.C. — Political figures and others across North Carolina mourned the death of President Ronald Reagan on Saturday.
A lot of state leaders had the chance to know the former president. Rep. Richard Morgan was in Washington, D. C. for both of Reagan's inaugurations, in 1980 and 1984, and he also was in a select crowd to see Reagan off as he officially left office in 1988.
In the 1980's, when Reagan came to North Carolina, Morgan usually was involved. The co-speaker of the North Carolina House remembered his first meeting with Reagan.
"I said: 'Mr. President, you are a great American,'" Morgan recalled. "He said: 'Thank you, son.' I can't remember the rest because I was in a daze."
Reagan was known as a great communicator. Morgan said that was true in both crowds and small gatherings.
"In the presence of Ronald Reagan you felt like a special person," Morgan said. "He made you feel like it was just you."
In 1988, Morgan was with a small group that watched Reagan leave office as George Herbert Walker Bush became president.
"The sadness of his passing is like I felt that day on the tarmac in D.C.," Morgan said. "We mourn the loss of a great American hero -- certainly my hero."
Morgan, a Republican, worked with Democrats to become co-speaker of the state house. He pointed to Reagan's 1983 State Of the Union address as a key influence. That is when Reagan called on both parties to cooperate to do the government's work.
Reagan's impact went far beyond his own generation. Bill Peaslee, the state's GOP chief of staff, said Reagan made the Republican Party what it is today.
"If you think back to the time, it was after Watergate," Peaslee said. "The Republican party, everyone thought, would shrivel up and die. Ronald Reagan really turned things around for the Republican Party. We are deeply in his debt."
Former Sen. Jesse Helms, who campaigned with Reagan and served as chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee during his presidency, released a two-page statement praising him as "one of the greatest Presidents in the history of our nation."
"Ronald Reagan's voice may have been silenced, but his vision and principled leadership will forever continue to speak to our future," the statement read. "Ronald Reagan helped to change the course of this country he loved so much."
Helms helped shape Reagan's political career, supporting him in 1976 in a presidential primary challenge to then-President Gerald R. Ford. Reagan's candidacy was near collapse when it came time for the North Carolina primary. Helms was in charge of the effort, and Reagan won a startling upset that resurrected his challenge.
Reagan lost in 1976 but defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980.
"I must admit I probably campaigned with more enthusiasm for Gov. Reagan than I did for myself," Helms said in the statement.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole served as a cabinet secretary in Reagan's administration, and her husband Bob Dole, also a former U.S. Senator, was in Congress when Reagan was president.
They released a joint statement on Saturday, saying that the world would miss Reagan's "tremendous vision, dignity and charm."
"Through his strong principled leadership Ronald Reagan successfully ended the Cold War and promoted freedom and democracy throughout the world," they said. "He truly related to people from all walks of life."
Evangelist Billy Graham called Reagan one of his "closest personal friends" and said his religious faith was deeper than most people knew. He said he had visited with Reagan and his wife. Nancy, several times during the last few years.
"The love between Ronald and Nancy Reagan was an example to the nation," Graham said in a statement.
Reagan's death also attracted praise from across the aisle. N.C. Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Falmlen said all North Carolinians are saddened by his death.
"Ronald Reagan was a man of principal and determination," he said in a statement. "His limitless optimism and good nature were admired by all."
Ferrell Blount, the chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, called Reagan a true patriot.
Gov. Mike Easley ordered that all flags at the entire government complex wave at half-staff in honor of the late president.
During his presidency, Reagan made more than a dozen trips to North Carolina. One of his more memorable visits was on a hot September day in 1985.
Reagan told a crowd in Reynolds Coliseum that what Washington needed was a little Wolfpack spirit. Fifteen thousand people packed the coliseum to hear Reagan promise more jobs and bigger paychecks.