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Donald Regan - Marine, firm executive, Secretary of the Treasury, and White House Chief of Staff - was a man of few words, always putting action before diction. He tried unsuccessfully to steer the Reagan administration through the controversies of the Iran-contra affair, and then published a scathing tell-all when he was unceremoniously relieved of his position. He remains an interesting and esoteric figure of both Cold War politics and governmental cover-ups.

Earning His Place

Donald Thomas Regan was born December 21, 1918, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He attended Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude in 1940 with a B.A. in English. After graduation, he promptly signed up for the United States Marine Corps and attended officer's school. He was assigned to the Pacific theater, where he rose to the rank of major.

Upon release from duty, Regan joined the Merrill Lynch brokerage firm as an executive trainee. He work in accounts for 5 years in Washington, D.C., and continued to rise through the ranks at the firm, making general partner in 1952, and taking over as head of Administration in 1960. In 1964, he was made an executive vice president, and finally in 1968 was named president of the company. He also became involved in many educational administrations, receiving honorary doctorates from the University of Pennsylvania and Pace University.

Top Of The World

In 1971, Regan was named chairman and chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch. That same year, he published A View From The Streets, an inside analysis of the stock market crisis of 1968. He was a staunch fiscal conservative, advocating laissez-faire economic policies and reduced governmental spending. In 1974, he was named to the Board of Trustees at Penn, and continued to serve as an important market spokesperson throughout the 1970s.

When Ronald Reagan won the Presidential election in 1980, Regan had no idea that the President was interested in anything he had to say. Therefore he was pleasantly surprised when he was nominated by Reagan for the Secretary of the Treasury Cabinet position. He accepted and stepped down from his CEO position at Merrill Lynch. Besides serving as the President's chief economic spokesman, Regan also worked closely with the President's Economic Policy Advisory Board to develop strong fiscal policies, and served as Chairman of the Congressional committee on depository institutions deregulation, where he and others worked to phase out interest rate limits at banks and other lending institutions. Some of this deregulation may or may not have contributed to the savings & loan scandals that rocked America in the mid-1980s, but Regan served as a competent Secretary of Treasury throughout Reagan's first term.

Who Knew What, And When?

Regan was again asked to be a part of the Reagan Administration with the President's re-election in 1984 - only this time he would serve as the White House chief of staff. Regan quickly learned that the President was a very trusting, permissive, and relegating President. Often times this would result in clashes between Administration members, some of whom acted against the other's interests, but with the approval of the President. Regan also had direct clashes with Nancy Reagan - he felt she was blindly pushing the President in directions with little respect for authority or experience. Nancy felt that Regan was also being impetuous - during her husband's cancer surgery in 1985, Regan brazenly asked for a White House helicopter to transport him to Bethesda Naval Hospital - Nancy called Regan and cried bloody murder, and Regan took a car instead.

In January 1987, it soon came to light that the Reagan Administration had approved the sale of weapons to Iran in order to send funding to right-wing contras in Nicaragua, who were rebelling against the Communist Sandinista government in place there. When Regan learned about this impropriety, he was furious. Why had the President done this?

Regan confronted Reagan, and the President could not recall whether he had approved of the arms sales (a lingering effect of his oncoming Alzheimer's disease). Since there was plausible deniability, Regan decided it would be best to keep the President as far away from the growing controversy as possible. The Tower Commission had been set up to investigate the weapons sales, and called Don Regan to the stand, where he denied the President or himself had any knowledge of the approval of the weapons sales. Late that month, however, the President issued a written statement claiming he had approved the sale of weapons, contradicting Regan. Less than a week later, the President appeared before the commission, this time reaffirming his denial of any knowledge of the weapons sales.

Getting Out

Regan, however, was already being bullied about by other Administration members, who wanted him to go. They felt he wasn't doing his job of shielding the President from what they perceived as unfair attacks by the media. Regan learned that the President was planning on firing him and hiring Howard Baker instead. So, in a preemptive move, Regan quit on February 27, 1987. Later that year, after the Iran-Contra affair had died down, at least in Washington, Regan published his book On The Record, detailing his days in the White House. It was filled with lots of juicy gossip about the various staffers and the President himself. The most damning story was that the President's schedule was dictated on a daily basis by Nancy after she had consulted with her personal astrologer. Many people wondered if the decisions of the nation were being made with the same voodoo and superstition techniques.

In 1992, an independent counsel was set up to review, but not charge, the persons involved in the Iran-contra affair. When they asked for Regan's personal notes and correspondence on the event, he gladly complied. One of the notes he had taken read:

"Pres + 1st Lady very upset." ...McFarlane
told her we're going to have to dump hostages to save Pres reputation, if necessary
She agreed.
Risking Presidency.

After his humbling in the White House, Regan retired from both politics and business, living the rest of his days in his Alexandria, Virginia home with his wife Ann. Together they had four children. He served as Chairman of the Charles Lynch Foundation, a charity organization for young children the past 12 years.

On June 10, 2003, Donald Regan passed away due to complications from cancer. He was 84.

Sources

  • http://www.ustreas.gov/education/history/secretaries/dtregan.html
  • http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/walsh/chap_30.htm - a very detailed chronology of the Iran-contra affair, in regards to Regan
  • http://www.quickchange.com/reagan/1987.html
  • http://www.salon.com/news/wire/2003/06/10/regan/index.html

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