“I Put a Lei on Nancy Reagan” by Lin Knight

The Day I ‘lei’d” Nancy Reagan.

As far as I know, I’m the only member of the Class of 1956 that can claim honestly to have “lei’d” Nancy Reagan.

It was Easter 1984, and I had recently arrived in Hawaii as Dean of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu.President Reagan was on his way to China, proceeding slowely to avoid getting jet lag. Two days in California, two days in Hawaii, two days in Guam, and finally on to China. His two days in Hawaii happened to occur over Easter, and someone on his staff decided that Easter would be a good day to go to church. It was an election year after all! St. Andrew’s is one of the biggest and most photogenic of thechurches in Hawaii, having a long history with the Hawaiian people as well as being next door to the Governor’s Mansion, where there was to be a reception after the service.

The preparations were amazing – dozens of phone lines installed for press, security, medical, and the White House. Hours spent with the Secret Service going over every detail. Metal detectors for the congregation, dogs sniffing all around, sharpshooters on the surrounding buildings, helicopters. Who would sit where. The assistant White House chef was even on hand behind the altar with a special uncontaminated bottle of wine for the President at communion! All this for maybe an hour-and-a-half service.

The Bishop of Hawaii, Edmond Browning, the retired bishop Harry Kennedy, and I were standing by the side door waiting at the appointed hour when all of a sudden the motorcade swung around the corner, blue lights and sirens flashing.

In all the preparations, during Holy Week, the busiest week of theyear for the clergy, it had never dawned on me what I would say to the President and Mrs. Reagan when they arrived at the Cathedral door.

I muttered something about Happy Easter and welcome to St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and then had the distinction of placing a lei around Mrs. Reagan’s neck, giving her a kiss on both cheeks. Every tourist who arrives in Hawaii gets “lei’d” at the airport or the dock, but to my knowledge no other 1956ed has “lei’d” the President’s wife!

Of course things didn’t go absolutely as scripted – they never do. In the confusion of serving communion to almost 1000 people the special wine for the President somehow got switched at the altar. Luckily no one got poisoned!

Rev. Hollinshead T. KnightJune 2006