Article Overview:    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

Cliff McKenzie

 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 taxations.
      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 efficient.

The Great 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 first.    
       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 President.
          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 of fare.
           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.

Cliff 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 Dream.
           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.
            Perhaps it 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 limitations.
         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 expectations.

President Bush 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 and improbable."
          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 Reagan."
           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 little flea.
          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 States.
         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 of Vigilance.
          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 dreams.
          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 final analysis.  

Reagan 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 the innocent.
         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 Vigilance--President Bush.
         The legacy goes on.


June 3--Five Day To Ground Zero Plus 1000

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