Ronald Reagan: Pen Pal
I had a pen pal when I was a little kid. My teacher set up a program for our class with another teacher's classroom across the country. I imagine a bunch of you had a similar setup sometime in elementary school, and so did Washington, D.C. student Rudy Hines. There's a big difference between our pen pals and Rudy Hines' pen pal, though - whereas our pen pals likely scribbled out quick notes in crayon before heading out to recess, Rudy's pal wrote a few lines from the Oval Office before heading off to greet foreign dignitaries.
On March 12, 1984, President Ronald Reagan was chatting with students at Congress Heights Elementary when he suddenly announced that he had chosen one of them to become his pen pal. The lucky winner was six-year-old Rudy Hines, who was picked because he had proven himself to be a good reader and writer.
The two wrote back and forth with surprising frequency, exchanging hundreds of letters until the end of Reagan's presidency in 1989. They covered topics you would expect, like reading ("Rudolph, if you get in the habit of reading stories for pleasure you'll never be lonely"), but also issues typically reserved for the political arena (Reagan lamented not getting to have a personal chat with Mikhail Gorbachev). The Gipper occasionally included some of the doodles for which he later became notorious and sent pictures of himself and the First Lady from their travels, always including a handwritten note on the back.
Rudy and his mom even had the Reagans over for dinner in their one-bedroom apartment on September 21, 1984 (pictured). Rudy told his pal Ron he could come over as long as he gave some warning first, so Rudy's mom had time to pick the laundry up off the floor. The Reagans were thrilled to accept, but had a condition of their own: that they eat the way Rudy and his mother ate every night. They ended up dining on fried chicken, rice, and salad in the living room while watching TV.
As of Reagan's death in 2004, Rudy was still living in D.C., holding down two jobs and living not far from that same apartment where the Reagans ate dinner on TV trays with him. Though they hadn't written since 1989 - Rudy says he felt bad intruding on the President's life when he was no longer Commander in Chief - Rudy was sad to learn of his former pen pal's passing. He recalled how impressed he was with Reagan for giving personal attention to a young child: "I figured I will get just a generic response that typical politicians give when people write letters to them. But he was not a typical politician. He actually sat down and took the time and carefully thought out his responses to my letters. And I really appreciated that."
Here's a video of Rudy and his mother on The Early Show the day after Reagan died.