PARIS -- President Bush led a chorus of current and former leaders last night in mourning the death of former president Ronald Reagan, saying it is "a sad hour in the life of America."
Reagan "leaves behind a nation he restored and a world he helped save," Bush said in remarks from the US ambassador's residence. The president, traveling in Europe to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-day and the liberation of Rome, learned of Reagan's death from his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card, who awakened the president after he retired for the night, following a dinner with President Jacques Chirac of France, according to White House officials.
Bush, who ordered flags flown at half-staff on federal buildings for 30 days, expressed the nation's thanks to Reagan for his contributions to the United States and the world. He said Reagan "had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom."
Former presidents also commented, with Gerald Ford expressing sadness at the passing of his "longtime friend."
"Ronald Reagan was an excellent leader of our nation during challenging times at home and abroad," said a statement Ford issued. "We extend our deepest condolences and prayers to Nancy and his family."
George H. W. Bush, who served as vice president under Reagan, recalled that the two had been political opponents but had become close friends. "He could take a stand . . . and do it without creating bitterness or creating enmity on the part of other people," he told reporters in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Bill Clinton said that he would always remember Reagan for personifying the "indomitable optimism of the American people and for keeping America at the forefront of the fight for freedom for people everywhere."
"It is fitting that a piece of the Berlin Wall adorns the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington," Clinton said.
In London, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who once called Reagan "the second most important man in my life," said Reagan "had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the Cold War for liberty and he did it without a shot being fired."
Their personal and political rapport helped their neoconservative outlook triumph around the world during the 1980s, as the Soviet Union crumbled.
"To have achieved so much against so many odds and with such humor and humanity made Ronald Reagan a truly great American hero," Thatcher said yesterday.
In Massachusetts, news of Reagan's death elicited a tribute from Senator John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. "Ronald Reagan's love of country was infectious," said a statement Kerry issued. "Even when he was breaking Democrats' hearts, he did so with a smile and in the spirit of honest and open debate. Despite the disagreements, he lived by that noble ideal that at 5 p.m. we weren't Democrats or Republicans, we were Americans and friends."
Material from wire services was included in this report.