As Ronald Reagan and throngs of admirers celebrate the opening of his presidential library this week, some longtime faithful lament that their 80-year-old leader has forsaken old friends who helped wage "the Reagan revolution" in Sacramento and Washington.
The discontent among some conservative followers was sparked by the abrupt dismissal of three former members of his inner circle from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, which built the library and will run its public affairs center.
Disgruntled loyalists, who requested anonymity, contend that the ouster--which struck a sour note in what planners had hoped would be a harmonious library opening--was orchestrated by Nancy Reagan without the knowledge of the former President.
Reagan has denied it, telling the Washington Post that "this is part of the picking on Nancy that goes on."
Foundation chairman Lodwrick M. Cook, in an interview with The Times, dismissed as "ridiculous" the assertion that Nancy Reagan engineered the departure of former U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, former Interior Secretary William P. Clark and former domestic policy adviser Martin Anderson.
Cook said the six-year terms of the three had expired and Reagan approached him with a new policy limiting all board members to one term. "He felt that it would be good for the board to have turnover and new faces and therefore broaden the support for the library," Cook said.
"That's not true," said one source close to the foundation. "There is no question that Nancy Reagan was at the bottom of it. Believe me, everybody knows it. People are livid over this."
A longtime friend of Reagan said: "The President simply did not know it had occurred. It is clear that if he was informed, he didn't realize he had been."
Meese, Clark and Anderson, although declining to comment on the reasons for their dismissals, acknowledged receiving sympathetic letters and calls from former colleagues.
"I did not realize the depth of the feelings of disappointment," said Anderson. "These are guys ((who are sending the letters)who worked for him for 20 or 30 years. They are the hardest of the hard-core Reaganites. They see it as a sign of ingratitude and disloyalty. It makes them very upset."
The trio's departure--delayed at Meese's request until after the library opening--will leave the board with only two holdovers from the Reagan Administration: former Energy Secretary John Herrington and Fred Ryan, who was Reagan's White House scheduler and now is his chief of staff. But neither are as deeply rooted with Reagan and his conservative agenda as Anderson, Clark and Meese, especially the latter two.
The board now will be heavily weighted with personal friends of the Reagans and wealthy businessmen, who--critics say--bring to the library little firsthand perspective on the former President's politics and policies dating back to his years as governor.
Recent appointees to the 13-member board include Cook, Riggs Bank Chairman Joe L. Allbritton and Malcom S. Forbes Jr., heir to his father's publishing empire. Billionaire Walter H. Annenberg and MCA Chairman Lew R. Wasserman, Reagan's onetime movie agent, also are on the board.
Hardly anyone who spoke anonymously to The Times believed that the three former advisers were removed simply because their terms expired. For one thing, they noted that other board members whose terms also are up have been asked to stay.
One theory for the purge is that Meese, Clark and Anderson were poor fund-raisers and that Nancy Reagan and Cook felt they should be replaced with people who could generate more money for the foundation. Another suspicion is that Nancy Reagan just does not feel comfortable around Meese and Clark, two conservative ideologues with whom she often disagreed when they worked for her husband.
The board shake-up also coincided with last spring's release of Kitty Kelley's scathing biography of Nancy Reagan. "It was a vindictive shot," a source said. "The book bothered her a lot. She was lashing out at a lot of people."
Cook, in the interview, asked rhetorically why none of Reagan's close friends or associates had personally approached the former President if they were so concerned about the board changes.
"He's 80 years old," one said. "Why embarrass him? We've put in an awful lot of time together. He's got his designated staff and his wife's running it. I have no desire to force a confrontation between himself and his wife. I love him."
Herrington, the board's treasurer, also was nearing the end of his term on the board. But Cook asked the board to extend Herrington's term for 2 1/2 years to maintain continuity until the foundation completes its fund raising and pays off the $9.3-million balance on its construction loan.
Cook said he again will bend the one-term policy and ask to keep fund-raising chairwoman Mary Jane Wick on the board until the foundation meets its $75-million goal. Wick, a close friend of Nancy Reagan, is the wife of Charles Z. Wick, the former director of the U.S. Information Agency.
In the next three years, the foundation plans to raise $6.5 million and collect $11.3 million in pledges to pay off all debts, cover the foundation's operating expenses and establish an endowment for a conservative think tank, the Ronald Reagan Center for Public Affairs, located inside the library.
One anonymous source suggested that Clark, Meese and Anderson are being replaced because of their inability to raise money. "The board was stacked with Reaganites--all that 'keep the flame alive' stuff," the source said. "But the biggest task was to raise money. These guys never have been able to raise money. So the load was on others. That's basically why they were taken off."
Some other Reagan associates dispute that theory, as does former foundation chairman W. Glenn Campbell, ex-director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He said he was fired from the board in 1989.
But during his tenure, the board raised $38 million for the library, with Meese as his vice chairman, Clark as treasurer and Anderson as board secretary. "So now, they have fired all of the people who have been loyal to him for all these years," Campbell said.
Lyn Nofziger, one of Reagan's original political advisers, lamented that his former colleagues "brought the history of the Reagan movement to the library. They brought a point of view and the experience needed to make it function properly."
He theorized that the three were dumped "because they're old Reagan people and don't fit in with that new crowd, who come around to butter him up and try to take advantage of what he was."
Not everyone around Reagan is part of a "new crowd," of course. His most senior political adviser, Stuart Spencer, remains close. And longtime confidant Michael Deaver--who for a while became estranged from the Reagans after he left the White House and stumbled into legal trouble--recently signed on to manage the library's dedication. But neither wanted to talk about the shake-up, except to insist they had nothing to do with it.
Nofziger plunged into the debate in August with an Op-Ed article published in several newspapers. Writing in the form of an open letter and accusing his former boss of having "forgotten old loyalties," Nofziger began: "Ronald Reagan, you have broken my heart. Finally.
". . . You have let Nancy and the rich and beautiful people with whom she has surrounded herself and you force off the board . . . three of the most dedicated and selfless Reaganites there are."
After the article appeared, Reagan telephoned Nofziger and "swore up and down that Nancy had nothing to do with it," Nofziger said in an interview. "I guess I have to accept that. . . . It was not one of my favorite conversations with him. He was unhappy. I said I was unhappy too. It didn't get any better from there."
Nofziger said he has received "an awful lot" of phone calls and letters from other Reagan friends and associates. "They all agreed with me, almost without exception," he said. But most of them plan to go to the library opening festivities anyway, he said.
Nofziger said he was invited, but will not attend.
Nancy Reagan, in her 1989 memoirs, "My Turn," made no secret of her negative feelings toward Meese and Clark. She wrote that although Meese had been Reagan's chief of staff when he was governor, "Ed and I were never close." She complained about his rigid conservative beliefs: "It also made me squirm that (in Washington) he kept getting into trouble in his financial life. He . . . embarrassed the presidency, and some men in his situation would have stepped down. Eventually he did, but in my opinion he waited far too long."
She was equally harsh toward Clark, another gubernatorial chief of staff who gave up a seat on the California Supreme Court to become deputy secretary of state when Reagan became President. She called Clark "another bad choice. . . . I didn't think he was qualified for the job--or for his subsequent position as national security adviser."
Even in Sacramento, Nancy Reagan continued, "I spoke to Ronnie about him, but Ronnie liked him, so he stayed around longer than I would have liked."