It's always sad when anyone suffers the kind of long, slow decline that marked President Reagan's twilight years, but Reagan was such an vigorous man that his disappearance into Alzheimer's was especially tragic for the contrast with his earlier vitality. Perhaps that contrast provides some consolation for his family and admirers; Rudolph Giuliani's comment to media was that it was a sad day, but also a joyous one -- because President Reagan had been gone for a long time, and people had missed him, and now they didn't have to miss him in that way anymore.
With all the comments about his career and his legacy and his historic significance, one thing about him has gone largely unmentioned: he was a damn fine ex-president. That's an unappreciated art. Reagan was a successful and popular president in office, but once out of office he did a great job of supporting the man who followed him while not hogging the limelight. He was graceful about it, and when his complete retreat from the public eye came, it almost folded into what he'd been doing anyway. He did much better at withdrawing than either President Carter, who started out very admirably but has since made political headaches for Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Bush, or President Clinton, who remains the 800-lb gorilla of his party. Bush 41 faded into invisibility, but he lost, so he had to. Reagan began to fade before his illness required that of him, and that's worthy of respect.
As his capacities declined, his Secret Service aides found themselves as gentle shepherds. One story -- which I remember reading, but can't find the source for now -- has it that he was taking a walk around the neighborhood, and started to go into somebody's garden. The agent gently caught him and said, "Mr. President, we can't go in there. That's not our house." President Reagan looked embarrassed to be reminded. "I know," he said. "I just wanted to pick some flowers for my love."
Rest well, Mr. President.