SIKESTON - Peter Myers doesn't recall what was said as he sat in on his first Cabinet meeting as deputy secretary of agriculture, but he vividly recalls the details of that day.
Myers remembers searching for the Cabinet meeting room in the Executive Office and finding the proper chair designated for the Secretary of Agriculture. Next to him that day were James Baker and George H. Bush discussing issues prior to the meeting.
"All of a sudden everyone sat down and there I was sitting right across the table from Ronald Reagan. It was a great experience for a country boy from New Madrid County," recalled Myers, who added yes, there was the jar of Reagan's favorite jelly beans on the table.
Myers served in various capacities in President Ronald Reagan's administration. In 1982 he was named chief of Soil Conservation Services. Later he would become deputy secretary of agriculture then would fill in as acting secretary of agriculture as Reagan's administration wound down in 1989. As the No. 2 man in the Department of Agriculture, Myers explained it was his duty to fill in for his boss at Cabinet meetings when the Secretary of Agriculture was out of town. Primarily, Myers said it was his job in the Cabinet meetings to sit and listen, although he does remember he was called on once by Reagan to make a report on an agriculture-related issue. The meetings also gave him insight into the nation's 40th president.
"To me he was the ultimate compassionate conservative. Fiscally he was conservative but socially he really worried about people," said Myers.
To make his point, Myers spoke of a meeting where Reagan went against the advice of his Cabinet. "The issue centered on women with children. He was really worried about them," he said.
Myers explained typically issues were already discussed and actions often decided before the meetings began. In this case, he recalled, Reagan had a different view and well, "he was the president. He prevailed ... I saw his true compassion right then."
As part of the government, Myers said he learned a lot about management by watching how Reagan handled people. "The President really delegated authority well. He surrounded himself with good people, people who understood what they should run by him and what they should do on their own."
As for the press' view that Reagan was uncaring, Myers insisted this wasn't true. He recalled a White House reception where Reagan, despite his wife, Nancy, being very ill, took the time to meet and shake everyone's hand.
Before leaving office, Myers said Reagan called in each of his appointees to personally thank them for serving and to present a pair of cufflinks. "It wasn't a big deal but what was big was that he took the time to thank the people each individually. It took a lot of time but it was indicative to me of what the man felt for people."
As Reagan's administration came to an end, Myers said he soon realized that, like Reagan, it was time for him to return home. Myers came back to Sikeston and today serves as the area's state representative, using the political skills he gained in Washington.
"He taught me to care about people," said Myers. "I was honored to serve in his administration because I believe what he believed in."