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World Leaders Bid Final Farewell to Ronald Reagan - 2004-06-11

America has said its last goodbye to former President Ronald Reagan. Six days after his death, family, friends and leaders from around the world gathered for a funeral service at Washington's National Cathedral.

It was a time for sharing memories, and celebrating the life of a man who had a great impact on the nation and the world.

"Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to us," said President Bush.

President Bush spoke on behalf of the American people.

"In the end, through his belief in our country and his love for our country, he became an enduring symbol of our country," he said.

All four of the nation's living past presidents attended this national funeral service.

They sat as a group near the front of the massive stone cathedral, not far from the flag-draped coffin.

Former President George Bush, the current president's father, who served two terms as Mr. Reagan's vice president, before succeding him, shared his own memories.

"As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than anyone I encountered in my years in public life," said former President Bush. "I learned kindness. We all did. I also learned courage."

Dozens of foreign leaders also attended, along with several former heads of state and government who worked closely with the Reagan White House.

Among them was his strongest ideological ally, Margaret Thatcher, who matched his years in office as Prime Minister of Great Britain.

It was his wish, expressed long before his death, that she would speak at his funeral. Too frail to stand for the time required to deliver a eulogy, she videotaped her remarks, and listened from a pew. She said America has lost a great president, and she had lost a dear friend.

"He sought to mend America's wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to free the slaves of communism," stated Margaret Thatcher.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sat by her side as her recorded voice filled the cathedral, speaking of Ronald Reagan.

Brian Mulroney, who worked with Mr. Reagan as prime minister of Canada, told the congregation that his old friend inspired his nation and transformed the world.

"I say, au revoir [good-bye], today to a gifted leader, an historic president and a gracious human being," Mr. Mulroney said.

Nancy Reagan sat in the front pew, her children at her side. Her strength during his decade-long fight against Alzheimer's, a disease that gradually eroded his mind, was mentioned time and time again by those delivering eulogies, and by the clergyman officiating at the non-denominational service: Episcopal priest and former U.S. Senator John Danforth.

"Mrs. Reagan, you shared him with us and for that we will always be grateful," he said.

Church bells rang slowly and mournfully, as the coffin was carried from the cathedral.

Their sound echoed through the city, as the remains of the 40th president of the United States were taken to a nearby airbase for a flight across the country and a private burial in his beloved California.