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At Dorchester pub, a president made the rounds

Of the many memories of Ronald Reagan around Greater Boston yesterday, few were as vivid as those held by a select few patrons at Dorchester's Eire Pub, who remembered the January afternoon in 1983 when the leader of the Free World paid the pub a surprise visit for a pint with the locals.

Mike Corbett, a 47-year-old construction worker from Braintree, sat at the bar yesterday with his back to the wall where framed pictures and newspaper clippings from that storied day hang still.

What was otherwise a regular day turned "surreal," he said, when the president walked in.

"I was just sitting here having lunch," he said. "The next thing I know I have the president of the United States looking over my shoulder. I was just trying to drink a pint, hoping the boss isn't looking."

Though Corbett admitted he "wasn't a political ally" of the Republican president, he said Reagan "seemed to have a grasp of the common person, the worker."

"I found him to be a very gracious person," he said. "I think he had an intuition. You could see the focus in his mind."

Corbett said Reagan's surprise drop-in didn't seem forced. "He made an effort to reach out to people that day," he said.

Rich Bishkin, who wasn't able to get into the pub that day but caught the excitement as he stood outside its doors, agreed that Reagan's visit was the real deal.

"You had a Republican in a Democratic, blue-collar community who said 'I'm one of you' by hoisting a beer," a pint of Ballantine Ale, to be exact.

Pictures showing Reagan in a brown coat, with a beer in his hand and a smile on his face in the midst of his aides, Secret Service agents, and admirers, fill the walls of the pub.

"In here the titles are out the window," said Bishkin, 49. "It's you as a man or a woman. . . . That's what Reagan projected here. Here it's not Mr. President. It's 'Hey, Ronnie.' He won over so many."

A plaque with two miniature American flags and a bust of Reagan commemorating his surprise visit hangs next to the pictures of that day, as well as photos from another visit by another US president years later, Bill Clinton.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts yesterday, news of Reagan's death elicited tributes from a host of politicians.

Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, said that America has lost "its most optimistic man."

"Ronald Reagan was a defender of freedom around the globe, restored economic vitality to our country, and believed the fundamental greatness of our people was the source of our strength at home and abroad," said a statement Romney issued. "The people of Massachusetts elected him president twice, and we join the entire nation in cherishing the memory of one of the most accomplished statesmen of the 20th century."

Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, a Democrat, said Reagan "made a career out of breaking down barriers and bringing people together."

"From the coalition he created to win the presidency to his friendship with [Soviet president] Mikhail Gorbachev, President Reagan was able to bridge gaps that no one had crossed previously," Menino said in a statement released by his office. "He was a man of his convictions. His optimism won the admiration of many Bostonians. We send our best wishes and condolences to Nancy Reagan and the entire Reagan family."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, meanwhile, praised Reagan's "extraordinary ability to inspire the nation to live up to its high ideals" and predicted that, on foreign policy, Reagan "will be honored as the president who won the Cold War, and his 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall' will be linked forever with President [John F.] Kennedy's 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' "

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