Peter Hannaford -- Reagan Aide and Fast Friend

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It is a truism of American politics—and American life—that like-minded individuals tend to find one another. It wasn’t an accident that George Washington attracted smart and fearless men such as Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette because George Washington was smart and fearless. Franklin Roosevelt attracted politically passionate and civic-minded individuals because he was one himself. John Kennedy was drawn to intellectually curious individuals, and in turn drew them to himself, where they became part of Camelot.

So it’s no surprise that Ronald Reagan brought many good men and women, including speechwriters, to him before and during his presidency because he himself was a man of superior character who also happened to be a good writer. That description also fits long-time Reagan aide Peter Hannaford, who passed away several days ago at the age of 82.

Peter died after he finished doing what he loved to do, which was sign books and give a talk about a new book he’d just edited, “Washington Merry-Go-Round: The Drew Pearson Diaries, 1960-1969.” Over the course of his life, he wrote six books on Ronald and Nancy Reagan. But he did more, much more, than that.

Going back to the early 1970’s, Peter became an invaluable aide and confidant to both Nancy and Ronald Reagan, a rare status he occupied with only a few others, including Michael Deaver and Edwin Meese. After Reagan’s governorship ended, Peter and Mike Deaver went into business together, forming a public relations firm, “Deaver and Hannaford,” that used the two syllable-three syllable cadence Peter often used in his writings. 

They had many clients, but first among equals was always Ronald Reagan, whose speaking schedule, syndicated column and radio commentaries they handled, making money for themselves and for the Reagans.

It was these columns and radio commentaries, heard by millions from early 1975 to late 1979, which formed the basis of Reagan’s successful 1980 presidential campaign. But Peter did more. He returned early from an African vacation to join the campaign in February of 1980 following the ouster of Deaver and other key aides—John Sears, Charlie Black, and Jim Lake—by Reagan himself. After that, Peter gave both Reagans much-needed peace of mind by staying by Reagan’s side until his historic win in November 1980.

Peter and Reagan drafted the historic acceptance speech at Detroit in 1980, a speech which called for a “community of shared values,” and openly reached out to Democrats to join that coalition. Four months later, they did just that, and by the millions, thereby becoming an integral part of the Reagan Revolution. 

Deaver followed Reagan to Washington where he became deputy White House chief of staff. Peter stayed on the outside, remaining a valued friend and confidant to the Reagans.

Late in life, he settled in the Northern California coastal city of Eureka, where he kept writing and became active in a local congregation, the Christ Episcopal Church, which will host a memorial service on Saturday.

“His death was an incredible shock,” church Pastor Susan Armstrong told the Eureka newspaper. She said his faith had become important to him in recent years, and that only last year he went through the formal process of confirmation. “He was constantly sending me newspaper articles about young people in the church and how we could attract young people to the church.” 

His widow Irene expressed the hope that a full congregation would be present on Saturday, and I am confident her wishes will be honored. Peter met Irene on a blind date in high school more than 60 years ago. They were married six months later and have two sons. Peter also leaves behind a world of friends and admirers, and I include myself in both categories. He helped me with my own Reagan books, always generous with his time and meticulous in his recounting of facts. The old phrase, “a gentleman and a scholar,” often came to mind when I thought of him. 

Peter Hannaford, RIP.

Craig Shirley is the author of two best-selling books about Ronald Reagan, including “Rendezvous With Destiny” and “Reagan’s Revolution.” He is also the author of the best-selling “December 1941; 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World” and is the president of Shirley & Banister. He is now writing several more books about Reagan, including “Last Act.” He has lectured at the Reagan Library, is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Reagan Ranch.

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