Bushes Pay Last Respects to Reagan

06/11/2004 at 08:05 AM EDT

Bushes Pay Last Respects to Reagan
Eric Draper/The White House/AP Photo
President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush paid their respects to the late President Ronald Reagan on Thursday, visiting the 40th President's flag-draped coffin in the Capitol Rotunda.

The Bushes bowed their heads and closed their eyes during their visit. The President also touched the flag and, as Nancy Reagan had done the day before, straightened it out.

"Ronald Reagan was a great man, an historic leader and a national treasure," Bush said on Thursday. He will deliver the eulogy in the National Cathedral at the funeral on Friday, which the Chief Executive has designated as a national day of mourning.

Mrs. Reagan greeted the First Couple sometime later. The former First Lady spent the day at the presidential guest mansion, Blair House, receiving distinguished visitors and friends, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher -- who quoted from the Book of Matthew when inscribing the condolence book.

"To Ronnie," wrote Thatcher. "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

In the Capitol Rotunda, former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev came to genuflect, as did a steady parade of thousands of members of the public.

During their condolence call at Blair House, the Bushes received a sad smile from Mrs. Reagan, whom the President embraced. He also held her hand.

Following the funeral Friday, the casket carrying Ronald Reagan will return West for a sunset burial at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

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