Reagan returns to D.C. for commemoration of assassination attempt

March 28, 1991|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

Washington -- For years, Nancy Reagan wouldn't speak about it. She'd refer to the event by its date, or obliquely call it "the thing that happened to Ronnie."

But today, she and the former president of the United States are spending the day in Washington, their second trip here since they left the White House, to actually commemorate what was once the unspeakable -- the shooting of Ronald Reagan 10 years ago this week.

George Washington University, calling the occasion "the 10th anniversary of President Reagan's care at the University Hospital," is awarding the former president an honorary doctor of public service degree "in recognition of his service as the nation's chief executive," says university president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, noting the "special bond" between the university and the Reagans.

At a morning convocation ceremony, university officials also plan to announce the creation of the Ronald Reagan Institute for Emergency Medicine, a program of study within the emergency medicine department, and dedicate a plaque for the emergency room waiting area to Nancy Reagan for her "courage and strength" during her husband's hospitalization.

Mr. Reagan was treated for a gunshot wound at the GWU Hospital after the March 30, 1981, assassination attempt by John Hinckley outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. Even though neither the president nor his secret service agents realized he'd been shot at the time, his motorcade sped to the hospital in three minutes after the president appeared hurt.

Emergency room nurse Kathy Paul Stevens, who met the president at the entrance, recalls that he looked "ashen and more like a cardiac patient" as she and others helped him out of the limousine, and that he collapsed just inside the hospital's double doors after saying he couldn't get his breath. He stayed at the hospital for 12 days.

"He's certainly pleased to be coming to Washington under today's circumstances rather than 10 years ago," says Mr. Reagan's spokesman Bill Garber. "But I guess that's obvious."

Also obvious is the fact that few events have so challenged or mobilized GW's emergency room, located about seven blocks from the White House.

"We get VIPs all the time," says hospital spokeswoman TerrAbdoo, "but obviously nothing to compare with the president of the United States coming in with a gunshot wound."

Jim Brady, the president's former press secretary who was shot in the head during the assassination attempt and sustained permanent brain damage, is to be in the audience today with his wife, Sarah Brady. The Bradys, not part of today's formal program, according to university officials, have become ardent gun control lobbyists since the shooting.

Before the invitation-only ceremony at the university's Lisner Auditorium, Mr. Reagan is to meet with the Ambassador of Kuwait Sheik Saud Nasir Al-Sabah.

He is scheduled to spend the afternoon in consecutive meetings and photo opportunities with President Bush, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell before jetting back home to California -- without a scratch, he no doubt hopes.

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