My day with Ronald Reagan. A memorable moment in a man's
life, one that constantly reminds me that the impossible is possible,
the improbable, probable--and the Beast of Terror can be beaten at its
own game if we preserve.
Thursday, June 10,
2004—Ground Zero Plus 1002
My Day With Ronald Reagan--A Day Of Vigilance
GROUND ZER0, New York, N.Y.--June 10, 2004 -- Everyone has
special days that stick to the roof of his or her mind. Some
have more, some have less. One of my many "special days"
was the day I spent with Ronald Reagan when he was vying to become our
40th President of the United States.
I had something that appealed to him at the
time--up to 500,000 potential votes, something that would make any
aspiring Presidential candidate drool about.
It was the late 70's and the political machinery was
whirring as the gears engaged to trumpet top candidates on the
Republican ballot to ward off Gerald Ford's incumbent status after
taking the helm when President Nixon abdicated his political throne
following the Watergate scandal.
At the time, I was senior vice president of marketing
for Century 21 International Real Estate. In less than eight
short years we had exploded throughout the United States and Canada
and boasted over 7,000 franchises with an army of sales agents numbering
more than 100,000. When you added their families to the
equation, mothers, fathers, mothers-in-laws, fathers-in-laws, you
ended up with four times that number, or a number nudging a
half-million potential voters.
Certainly not all real estate salespeople and
brokers are Republicans, but a vast majority believe in the principles
of capitalism, and far less are in favor of more government regulation
over their lives and business, and certainly in disfavor of additional
My primary job was to maximize sales in all
sectors of the company. That meant designing and implementing
tools and systems that would inspire the brokers and salespeople, as
well as attract new ones, to wear the gold blazer of the newest,
hottest franchise system in the world.
In our heyday, Century 21 commanded 11 percent
share of the $500 billion-a-year real estate market (residential),
hammering out more than $50 billion in gross product sales. We
were far larger than McDonalds, and had a 97 percent awareness with
the public. We were the Microsoft of the real estate industry.
Annually, we held huge conventions, booking
upwards of 15,000 room nights in Las Vegas. The red carpet
was rolled out for us.
Our huge budgets allowed us to get great
entertainers and speakers, headliners like Bob Hope, Johnny Cash
and George Burns, who had just finished making "Oh, God!" and was high
on the comeback trail from obscurity after his wife, Gracie, died.
I was in charge of the convention planning and
details, as we felt the annual gathering of our people was a renewal,
a revival of their commitment to the franchise, and a reminder to them
that we were advanced, foreword thinkers who collectively had the
power no single individual could muster.
All that was expressed often by the high-caliber
speakers and incredible performances we put on to highlight new tools
and systems to make real estate selling and managing easier, more
Communicator spoke to thousands of Century 21 real estate agents
Of course, there was the chest puffing that went
with wearing the gold blazer, the symbol of Century 21.
The guy or gal or family from Iowa got a chance to be "big time"
in Las Vegas, to belong to the world's largest and most effective
business franchise machine in the world. Anything we
could do to make that chest puff a little bigger or prouder we did,
assuring that the person wearing the gold blazer would go home and
boast of the high-quality of his or her company, and, through that
confidence, increase sales.
We had grown out of Las Vegas. Our
numbers were so large, we elected to move to New Orleans where their
convention hall was bigger, and, it was more centrally located for
both East and West Coasts.
I had a great idea. Why not, I
thought, get the two potential candidates to speak. Gerald
Ford was playing with tossing his hat in the ring on the Democratic
side, and Ronald Reagan on the Republican. Our convention
had grown so large we had to split up the meeting into two waves, one
staying for three days and the other arriving on the heels of the
I began to pursue both former President
Ford and Ronald Reagan, playing tag with their aides. We
had some connections through Mike Deaver, one of Reagan's top aides,
and others to Ford. I told Ford's aides that
the Super Bowl, to be played in New Orleans, was going to be that week,
and I knew President Ford loved football. Ford's schedule
was full, but the aide like the football idea and told me he'd get
back. He did, and we confirmed Ford, for $30,000.
Speaking fees, even for votes, are part of the deal.
I had half of the
political team. Now, I approached Ronald Reagan's staff, telling
them that it would be great to have former Governor Reagan speak to
our people. When they found out Ford would be speaking
also to the first half of the group, they jumped on the opportunity.
The Great Communicator, they believed, could trump the former
Reagan's fees were the
same, $30,000. I agreed and the wheels were set in
motion. Two top political opponents headlined our speaking bill
Thousands of our
people poured into the New Orleans Convention Center for the first
meeting with President Ford. Then, on the heels of
the first group's leaving, a greater flood of gold blazers swarmed into
the city for the second half.
McKenzie shaking hands with Sentinel of Vigilance Ronald Reagan as
he dons the Century 21 "Gold Blazer!"
I was most anxious
to meet soon-to-be President Reagan. There was a mystique
about him, an electricity of fundamentalism about America, about duty
to one's country, about the pride of being a member of the freest
nation on earth, and, of course, he was a symbol of the Great American
Most people will
tell their children: "In America, you can be anything if you set
your heart to it--even the President of the United States."
Reagan came from that mold. He was a movie actor--and not
that good at his craft--memorialized by his critics for his movies
with the primate "Bonzo."
But that didn't
seem to hinder his excellence for promoting the Great American Dream,
or hobble his ability to reinforce the "Dream" that anyone can become
a great leader if one uses the fundamentals of liberty and freedom as
their base of belief.
was his cowboy hat, or that rugged western look and soft words that
flowed from his mouth, punctuated by his stern underscoring of beliefs
that gave him the "father of the nation" stature and made me feel that
perhaps I could evolve beyond my expectations or self-imposed
Many of us scoff at the Great
American Dream. A few don't. Those who refuse
to succumb to the Beast of Terror's marginalization of their dreams
and goals break through the crust of the Beast's limitations, and
become Sentinels of Vigilance despite the gravity of their own
defects, their own self-imposed manacles that tether them to states of
Complacency and Intimidation that they cannot become their greatest
and wife at Reagan's funeral today
Ronald Reagan is one
example of a man who defied gravity, and, who rose above those great
limitations of self and background to achieve great things.
He is like a man I met once who had no leg, and became a marathon
runner, running on a metal leg. He ran up Pike's Peak and
planted a flag for all those who believe they "can't do the impossible
The day that Reagan was
to speak I met him at the Convention Center. He walked in
and stood for a moment before me, smiling. He
reached out his hand and said, "Hello, Cliff. I'm Ronald
It was like I was a
person from the crowd, extending a greeting to me as though our roles
were reversed: I was the star and he was just another
faceless person. He made me feel great. Here was a
great man making me feel great.
The nature of some
great leaders is to limit their pride and arrogance, and to become one
of many, not just the "one." The walls of power that had
existed with President Ford weren't there. As I approached
President Ford a few days earlier I felt this incredible shield
between us: an invisible wall separated us. It was a
strange feeling. Ford was a giant elephant and I a tiny
But with Reagan, it was
different. There were no walls because he didn't emanate them.
We talked about his
speech and I gave him the schedule. Then we ceremoniously
changed his suit coat. We asked all our speakers to wear
the Century 21 Gold Blazer, or during their speech, to don it.
It was a crowd pleaser, and Ronald Reagan was a true showman. He
understood the thousands of Century 21 people would roar with approval
when he shed his coat and put ours on--a form of solidarity that would
shift any of his critics into fans--at least for the moment.
And, all a politician seeks is a moment to break through the barriers
of resistance in hopes his critics might embrace his humanness, his
aura as a person seeking the best for his people.
I had a picture taken of
Ronald Reagan and myself, wearing the Gold Blazer. I escorted
him to the speaking platform and he was marvelous. The audience
turned to putty as he spoke, and there is little doubt he shifted many
who may have thought him not qualified to be President of the United
After he spoke, he sought me
out and shook my hand, and thanked me profusely for the opportunity.
At that moment, I put him on a great pedestal, for there was a
sincerity in his demean, non-political, human to human.
When he rose to power, I felt I
had some small part in his ascent to leader of the Free World.
And when he performed the incredible feats of his leadership--the
beginning of nuclear disarmament, the collapse of the Soviet Union,
the breaking down of the Berlin Wall, and the reconstitution of the
American ideal that too much government was bad, I felt even better.
Of course, there was the
wounding of the President. As a combat veteran who
had been shot at many times and ducked bullets, I felt a
further kinship for him because he "took a bullet" for his country.
I always wondered if he received the Purple Heart, for as
Commander-In-Chief, he certainly deserved it. Yet I never have
heard that he did.
In many ways, he was a
combat President. He fought a great war against the "evil
state" of Communism and won a huge battle, freeing countless millions
of people who owe their freedom to his efforts.
Many will write countless
things about Ronald Reagan. But my words are simple--He
symbolized that a man of conviction, courage and who takes right actions
in behalf of the Children's Children's Children can become a Sentinel
For millions of children
in the former Soviet Union, he is their Sentinel of Vigilance.
It is doubtful that Ronald Reagan will be given the historic credit
for being their Sentinel of Vigilance, or for being the one whose
Sword of Vigilance cut the chains of communism and released them from
the bondage of a political system that suppressed their goals and
Ronald Reagan slew the
Beast of Terror in many ways. He disarmed a world
terrorized by nuclear missiles pointed at different continents.
Few realize the power of such deeds and many skip over it.
We are thrust today in a
world of terror, but before Ronald Reagan's stand against communism, a
finger on a trigger could have blown the world to bits. Now, the
missiles of destruction aren't aimed at the world.
A new form of terrorism
has evolved. This one is virtually faceless and
nationless. It worms about like a blaster virus, infecting
those who are subject to Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
In Reagan's place we have a new
President who is carrying on the legacy of Ronald Reagan. He is
fighting terrorism rather than communism, but both are the same in the
successfully fought the battle with the Beast of Terror
George W. Bush may not receive
the accolades that President Reagan is receiving as he lies in state
in our nation's capital. But the battle with
the Beast goes on, fractionalized this time, but nevertheless, with
the same intent--to free the children from the Beast's wrath.
To give the future a chance to grow and prosper rather than be snuffed
by some radical who releases some deadly toxin that cripples and maims
While it is time to salute the
passing of Ronald Reagan--Sentinel of Vigilance--it is also worthy to
note that President George Bush has picked up the Shield and Sword of
Vigilance, and to remember that if Ronald Reagan was sitting in the
White House today, he would likely be doing exactly what George Bush
is--fighting for the freedom of the world regardless of the costs to
this political future.
In many ways, Ronald Reagan is
not dead. He lives in his new Sentinel of
The legacy goes on.
June 3--Five Day To
Ground Zero Plus 1000