SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- Ronald Reagan opened his presidential library yesterday and invited the world to "come and learn from it." He was joined by President Bush and their three predecessors in the first gathering ever of five U.S. chief executives.
Eleven years to the day since he was elected president, the 80-year-old Mr. Reagan joined Mr. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald R. Ford and Richard M. Nixon at the hilltop library under brilliant, wind-swept skies. A band played "Hail to the Chief" as they took the stage. Air Force F-16s flew over.
"The doors of this library are open now and all are welcome," Mr. Reagan told a crowd of 4,200 invited guests. "The judgment of history is left to you, the people. I have no fears of that. We have done our best. And so I say, 'Come and learn from it.' "
In addition to the presidents and their wives, Lady Bird Johnson and her daughter, Lucy Johnson Turpin, represented the late Lyndon B. Johnson, and John Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg were there for their late father, John F. Kennedy. There were also relatives of President Franklin Roosevelt.
Mr. Reagan's fellow chief executives took turns at the microphone, praising him and looking back on the challenges of their own administrations.
Mr. Bush, who was Mr. Reagan's vice president, called him his mentor and hailed him as "an American original . . . a visionary, a crusader and a prophet in his time."
Mr. Nixon said Mr. Reagan would be remembered as a president who believed in freedom and democracy and who "restored America's military might."
Even Mr. Carter, who hurried back from election-monitoring in Zambia to attend the dedication, had kind words for the man who ruined his re-election hopes. Under Mr. Reagan, Mr. Carter said, "our nation stood strong and resolute and made possible the beginning of the end of the Cold War."
Mr. Carter, the only Democrat of the five, jokingly alluded to Republican presidential dominance in the last quarter-century. "I have one concern, and that is that the Republican representation has four times as much time on the program as the Democratic," Mr. Carter said to laughs from the largely GOP crowd.
Also on hand for the ceremony were former Reagan administration officials James Watt, Caspar W. Weinberger, Michael Deaver and Mr. Bush's secretary of state, James A. Baker III.