When a new poll this week revealed that the public continues to view Ronald Reagan as its favorite modern president, there were many satisfied nods in the Simi Valley, California, offices of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.
It was the latest confirmation that the foundation that supports the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum has succeeded in keeping the Gipper’s spirit alive and relevant to America’s journey.
It was especially satisfying for foundation Executive Director John Heubusch, who is retiring after 12 years as former first lady Nancy Reagan’s hand-selected choice to build her husband’s brand.
Thinking back to his interview with her at the family’s Bel-Air home that won him the job, the former congressional aide and business executive said, “I just felt like, man, this is something that's really worth spending your time on. So I took the role.”
Now, as the 63-year-old cancer survivor readies his Dec. 31 departure, Heubusch leaves the foundation with a sizable financial endowment, a renovated library and museum that is also the most popular in the presidential system, a new and thriving policy institute a block from the White House, and a facility that regularly hosts presidential election debates.
Looking to this weekend’s Reagan National Defense Forum featuring top defense, administration, industry, and congressional leaders, he said, “It’s one of the many projects I’ve been involved in over the last 12 years to keep Ronald Reagan’s vision and his philosophy top of mind with decision-makers today and hopefully influence them to act in accordance with his vision.”
Heubusch said it has taken hard work and some luck to fulfill Nancy Reagan’s vision. He hoped to bank an endowment of $1 billion before leaving, but his $250 million isn’t chump change. And when the Easy fire threatened to torch the library and museum that features Reagan’s Air Force One two years ago, he had confidence the flames would die out because the foundation hired goats to eat up all the surrounding vegetation.
Wheels down in California, where I’ll deliver keynote remarks at the 2021 @ReaganInstitute National Defense Forum. The RNDF offers the defense community a chance to come together to discuss how we can lead the world in an era of increasingly complex challenges and opportunities. pic.twitter.com/3dqxSocv50— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) December 3, 2021
Hugh Hewitt, the conservative media giant and former Richard Nixon Foundation president, told us, “The legacy of President and Mrs. Reagan is so secure because of John and his board, probably the best-run library in the system, and I think everyone would agree at least the equal of any of them.” He gave Heubusch the ultimate compliment: "Everyone I know likes to be invited to the Reagan Library."
Influential Reagan biographer Craig Shirley, who has spent days in the library, becoming friends with Heubusch, said, “The Reagan legacy has been nobly preserved and enlarged because of John. He has been a godsend to the Reagan Library. Class, honor, professionalism, John is first among the equals of true Reaganites.”
Roger Zakheim, the director of the Ronald Reagan Institute, recalled meeting with Heubusch years ago at the library. At the time, Zakheim was a congressional staffer. As they walked under the Air Force One display, he suggested the foundation do something to promote the historic Reagan military buildup and his “peace through strength” legacy.
Heubusch “jumped on the idea,” and Zakheim now runs the defense and diplomacy institute.
“That vision that Reagan left the country with in his farewell address, not because he wanted to say what it was over, the past, but what he wanted the country to be, I think John’s done a remarkable job of bringing that vision Reagan left to reality,” he said.
Heubusch, who plans to continue writing novels in his Shroud Series and dabble in presidential politics in “retirement,” said in looking back that Reagan made his job easier.
“It's not difficult to succeed when the brand you’re selling is the name of ‘Ronald Reagan,’” he said.