My personal remembrances of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney

As former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is laid to rest Saturday, I know he will be remembered with fondness and gratitude by many in Canada, as well as around the world. And while he is best known domestically and internationally for his leadership and public service, I wanted to share a personal side of this very public figure whom I had the great privilege of knowing.

My grandfather was Canadian, which is why, perhaps, when I first had the pleasure of meeting Prime Minister Mulroney over the phone, it was extra special. His deep, rich, soothing voice could have sold anything, yet not in a slick salesman type way. His tone was confident, warm and made you believe anything he said.

President Ronald Reagan lifts his glass in a toast with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during a state dinner in Ottawa, Canada, on April 5, 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library/Getty Images)

I remember fondly the first time he called the Office of Ronald Reagan – I was new in my role as the executive assistant to President Reagan and was told that Prime Minister Mulroney was on the line for my boss. I picked up the call and planned on putting it straight through, but as I would soon learn, Mulroney cared about the personal side of things, not just the professional side. Clearly this is one reason that the two men were so close.

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I said, “Mr. Prime Minister – this is Peggy – and I am happy to put your call through if you don’t mind holding for just a moment.” He replied, “Hello Peggy – this Brian. I don’t think we have met before. I am happy to meet you.” He continued the conversation warmly and non-hurriedly, though I knew he didn’t call to talk to me. I politely told him that the president was looking forward to speaking to him and put the call through. Unsurprisingly, the next time he called; he cheerfully greeted me, “Hi Peggy – this is Brian.”

After “meeting” him on the phone we had several opportunities to interact in person – at the Reagan Library, at the Reagan Ranch, and in D.C. Each time he remembered me and spoke to me with that same charismatic warmth.

Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney at the Reagan Ranch. (Peggy Grande/Courtesy of The Reagan Foundation)

I wrote in my book, “The President Will See You Now,” that Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney were great friends who enjoyed each other’s company and would tell jokes and laugh heartily. Both had the gift of storytelling and credited their Irish ancestry for their ability to tell a tall tale.

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Prime Minister Mulroney and Ronald Reagan were alike in several ways. They both had a story or joke for every occasion, no one laughing louder than the two of them at their own cleverness or sense of humor. They often commented to each other that for two Irishmen, they sure had married up, which was especially true since both men had lovely, attractive wives.

Although they met several times as president and prime minister, including what was dubbed “The Shamrock Summit” in 1985, their continued friendship after they each left office was more telling of how they valued each other personally, not just as fellow heads of state. When neither could do anything politically for the other, nor were there diplomatic expectations, they continued to get together because they liked each other and enjoyed each other’s company. At its heart this is the truest form of diplomacy.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney attend the state funeral of former President Ronald Reagan at Washington’s National Cathedral June 11, 2004. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Long after he left politics, I saw Prime Minister Mulroney and corresponded with him periodically. The world watched as he beautifully and eloquently eulogized his dear friend, “Ron” at the National Cathedral in Washington after Ronald Reagan’s passing in June 2004. Many years later he would travel to California in 2016 to eulogize Mrs. Reagan, as much a tribute to his friend Ron, her partner, as it was to her.

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In 2016 I was writing my book and sent an advance copy to him to review and asked if he would be willing to provide an endorsement. He read the draft and sent back the following quote:

“This book by Peggy Grande is a keeper.As a friend and colleague of President Reagan, I know how close Peggy was to him and her account of such a privileged association makes for a marvelous and exciting read.For anyone interested in finding out what Ronald Reagan was really like, up-close and personal, Peggy’s book is an absolute must read. I found it fascinating and revealing from beginning to end!”

A framed portrait of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney leans against the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill as Canadians mourn his death at the age of 84, in Ottawa, Canada on Friday, March 1, 2024. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

It was so kind of him to take the time and lend his voice to my words about a man we both admired and cared about.

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In May 2018, the world watched as his twin grandsons, Brian and John Mulroney, arrived in a black Rolls-Royce, and held the train of Meghan Markle’s wedding veil as she walked into St. George’s Chapel to marry Prince Harry. (Their mother, Jessica, is a longtime friend of Meghan.) One twin smiled widely – and with both front teeth missing – the entire world smiled back.

I wrote to him the next day, saying,“I watched with delight, as did much of the world, as two little boys stole the show on Saturday at the Royal Wedding. While most grandparents like to boast that their grandchildren are the cutest or the smartest or the best, you certainly must be glowing with pride knowing that your claims are no longer in dispute! What a beautiful and special day – and how delightful for your family to have participated in a way that made all of us proud (though I imagine the face of Grandpa was particularly beaming, and justifiably so!)”

President Ronald Reagan stands with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney outside the White House in April 1988. (Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)

Kindly, the proud grandpa wrote back, “P. Thx for the kind words. It is time to quit, as RR(Ronald Reagan) would say, when you are outshone by your grandchildren!!”

Though his “quitting” came abruptly, and much sooner than many of us would have wanted, I am grateful that Brian Mulroney boldly stepped onto the world stage many years ago, positively impacting so many lives, including mine.

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Peggy Grande was executive assistant to Ronald Reagan and is author of “The President Will See You Now.” She is an international television commentator and columnist and served in the Trump administration.

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