Lyn's Day

It was, to say the least, a funeral full of lightheartedness, political talk, and joy. No one would have expected anything less when the deceased was Lyn Nofziger’s, Ronald Reagan’s longtime press man and political adviser. Following a long battle with cancer, the 81-year-old Nofziger died last week and the funeral was on April Fool’s Day — not exactly a coincidence, when one recalls the Californian’s dry wit, passion for puns, and dependency on not taking anything seriously.

Following the procession from Murphy’s Funeral Home in Falls Church, Virginia  to burial at a nearby cemetery (where widow Bonnie Nofziger was presented with an American flag by two uniformed soldiers, a tribute to her husband’s U.S. Army service win World War II), the "Lyn legion" arrived at St. Mary’s Epsicopal Church in Arlington for the final farewell.

The greats of recent political history filled the church, along with the small people who worked in campaigns that Lyn Nofziger loved and made sure were not forgotten. Bob and Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R.-N.C.) came to pay tribute, as did Pat and Shelley Buchanan, former Sen. Paul Laxalt (R.-Nev.) and wife Carol, and former Secretary of Energy John Herrington, who came all the way from California to deliver a eulogy to his old comrade from the Reagan governorship and presidency. Veterans of the Nixon Administration (White House appointments secretary Steve Bull and Nixon’s son-in-law Ed Cox) were there, along with alumni of the early Reagan presidential bids who had gone on to greater things:  Pat Pizzella (now assistant secretary of labor), Gary Hoitsma (whose association with Nofziger went from the 1976 Reagan for President campaign to their most recent work for the Carmen Group public relations firm), Frank Lavin (who later held Nofziger’s old job as political affairs director in the White House and was until recently U.S. ambassador to Singapore). From Nofziger’s pre-Reagan days as a reporter, there was Ralph Hallow of the Washington Times and the Washington Post’s David Broder, who met Nofziger when they were both covering John Kennedy’s race for president in 1960.

"I didn’t really know Lyn that well — we only had lunch a few times in the last few years," remarked Ken Kramer, retired judge of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals and a former congressman from Colorado, "but you sure could learn a lot from him." Even old rivals — notably Ron Kaufman, Republican National Committeeman from Massachusetts and a key operative in the elder George Bush’s first presidential bid in 1980 when Nofziger was on the Reagan team — were there.  Standing beside me at the graveside service was former Republican National Chairman Bill Brock, a target of the Reagan and Nofziger during his tenure at the RNC for not using money raised by the Californian to oppose the Panama Canal treaty. (Brock later served as Reagan’s U.S. Trade Representative and secretary of labor).

Speakers ranged from religious advisers such as Nofziger’s former pastor in Northern Virginia ("Lyn once asked ‘what’s all this born-again stuff thing?’ — I always believed in Jesus!") to comrades from his days with Reagan, such as Herrington and former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese. Virtually all remembered the old Reaganaut’s passion for what Meese called "the little people" in campaigns. It was Nofziger, several recalled, who made sure that grass-roots conservatives and volunteers were not forgotten.  Longtime Washington DC speechwriter Vic Gold, for example, cited how his daughter Paige called him in tears after the 1984 elections; a group of senior citizens volunteers for President Reagan’s re-election had been promised a tour of the White House and no one there knew about it. "I called my friend Lyn and told him the situation," Gold said, "He said — ‘Don’t worry — they’ll get their tour,’ and fifteen minutes, they did. Everything was straightened out." Gold recalled a saying that "’We never found the Fountain of Youth, but we have our memories.’ I will keep them until I see him again."

Some of the less-famous were there to hail Lyn Nofziger as well.  Cindy Tapscott Novarro, who worked for the old political master at Reagan’s late-70s political action committee Citizens for the Republic, and Karen Hansen Munro, a volunteer in Reagan’s 1966 campaign, had warm recollections of Nofziger the strategist.  Others recalled his insistence on celebrating Groundhog Day every year because he felt the groundhog should be recognized and still others saluted Nofziger by wearing his trademark Mickey Mouse tie to church.

Perhaps the most lasting comment came from his last pastor, Rev. and retired Brigadier General James M. Hutchens. "Lyn walked with kings," Hutchens told mourners, "but he never lost the common touch."