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La Cañada resident recalls her Reagan years in new book

President's Day week may have been uneventful for some, but it found La Cañada resident Peggy Grande on a whirlwind, bicoastal tour for a perfectly timed memoir about the decade she spent working at the side of President Ronald Reagan.

"The President Will See You Now: My Stories and Lessons from Ronald Reagan's Final Years" details Grande's ascension from patriotic Pepperdine University senior working as a sales clerk at Nordstrom to executive assistant of the former president from 1989 to 1999.

The book hit the stands on Feb. 21 and has been selling steadily at events and speaking engagements, including the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside the nation's capital, where the mother of four signed copies and recorded an interview for a syndicated radio show.

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She's appeared on the "Today" show and has spoken to radio stations across the nation, averaging from one to four interviews each day to share her memories of Reagan not only as a statesman, but as a kind and gracious person.

"It's been terrific to see how the book has been received," Grande said, describing her first literary effort as a personal sketch that took two months to write. "I sat at a desk for eight to 15 hours a day so I could immerse myself in those years — it's a much deeper, more interesting and personal book than it would have been if I'd just scratched things out here and there."

Grande spent the book's opening night in La Cañada at a signing hosted by Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, where more than 60 people came out to hear her personal anecdotes about Reagan's life post-White House.

Gail Mishkin, who handles marketing and events for the store, said many who turned out to hear Grande speak bought multiple copies of the book, some as gifts for others.

"I think she was really just telling the story, as a young person, of the towering impact this figure had on her," Mishkin said of the author. "It seems like it was a very personal relationship."

Grande opens "The President Will See You Now" with news of Nancy Reagan's March 6, 2016, passing. That historic moment provides a personal jumping off point for the author, who fondly recalls applying for a college internship at the former president's Century City office, almost on a lark.

"I made a list of 10 places in L.A. I'd love to intern with — of course Ronald Reagan's name was on that list," said Grande, an avid fan of presidential facts who grew up in the conservative-leaning city of Brea. "That was the only phone call I got."

It was on her initial interview that she met "The Great Communicator" in person. She recalled her nervousness as he approached and introduced himself. Grande secured the college internship and was later hired on as executive assistant, first to former administration member Fred Ryan (now publisher and chief executive of the Washington Post) and then to Reagan himself.

Husband and Glendale native Greg Grande recounted how excited his then-girlfriend was to land the assignment of a lifetime, and what an honor the position became for her in the decade that followed. Her capturing those memories in a book and sharing them with others seems like a natural and graceful next step, he said.

"We're all kind of amazed people are still interested in these stories. It's been fun to see her totally thrive and excel," he said of his wife's successes. "I'm bursting with pride — no doubt about that."

Peggy Grande will speak at a book signing Saturday at noon at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, and at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books April 22 and 23.

"I hope whoever reads this will feel they've been given a peek behind the screen, and they'll jump on my shoulder and come to work with me," she said.

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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