"When I took this news home to my parents, my father, who was a Reagan fan, was stunned and he said, 'let me show you a picture of both candidates and see which one you like.' Immediately, I thought President Reagan was the better-looking of the two. And so, I chose him as my candidate," said Rachel Pierce of Tupelo.
Shortly after his election, Rachel began writing Reagan about school, family, and life in general and Reagan wrote back.
Then, in 1989, about five months after the president left office, the then 14-year-old junior high school student got a phone call from President Reagan's secretary in California who said:
"The President and Mrs. Reagan would like for you to come out for a visit. They've received your letters all these years and they'd like to meet you in person."
Without even consulting her parents, pierce said yes. A few weeks later, she and her dad flew out and met Reagan at his ranch.
Rachel said was worried Reagan might not measure up to her high expectations, but those doubts vanished as soon as he gave her a giant hug and they began to talk.
"He was interesting because he had great stories to tell, but he was interested in my life, and my goals," said Pierce. "I think that's something you rarely see that in a world leader."
Pierce's entire family got to meet Reagan as he conducted a seminar in Memphis in 1991. She got a happy 16th birthday card that same year. I
N 1993 when Reagan's Presidential Library opened, Pierce was summoned to California again for a private meeting. The last time she visited with Reagan was in 1996, two years after the president announced to the world that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Pierce said the relationship shaped her conservative political views. She said Reagan's civility toward his political adversaries taught her something about life as well.
"It's a great lesson for me as I practice law. That there are lots of people on the other side of my clients and of my cases, but I try to remind myself at the end of the day that I am not disagreeing with that person, just their position. I think that's a lesson several of our modern day politicians could learn from," said Pierce.