Only one United States president had the honor of hosting Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in his private home.
In June 1982, President Ronald Reagan joined Elizabeth for a horseback ride at Windsor Castle. On that ride, he invited her to do the same at his ranch in sunny California.
On March 1, 1983, amidst one of the worst rainstorms in Santa Barbara history, our 40th president welcomed the British royal couple to his mountaintop retreat.
As the torrential downpour made it impossible for the queen to helicopter up to the ranch, the Reagans traveled down to meet her and Philip at the Santa Barbara Airport with a reception of howitzers performing a 21-gun salute and the Air Force Band playing “God Save the Queen” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Reagans, ever gracious, told the royal couple they understood if they did not want to brave the weather to visit the ranch. However, Elizabeth insisted, and after visiting local attractions including the county courthouse and the Santa Barbara Mission, she was escorted up to the ranch by the Secret Service.
Because an armored limo was unable to make it up the washed-out roads, the queen rode up the windy mountain pass in a Chevy Suburban, fording seven overflowing streams.
The driver, Secret Service agent Bob Caughey, recalled water seeping through the floorboards of the SUV. Looking in the rearview mirror, Caughey watched the queen tuck her feet under her body on the car seat to avoid getting them wet as she commented that the weather reminded her of her homeland. The queen would afterwards refer to the ride to the ranch as “adventurous.”
The original plan to ride horses at the ranch was unfortunately canceled as it was unsafe for both horse and rider. Instead, the two couples retreated into the main ranch house for a Tex-Mex meal of enchiladas, tacos and refried beans next to a roaring fire. When asked about her visit to the ranch days later, the queen remarked that she thoroughly enjoyed the meal of enchiladas and “reused” beans.
At the end of her 10-day journey on the West Coast, the queen spoke at a dinner Reagan hosted in her honor at the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco.
“Mr. President, thank you for the very kind things you have said tonight,” she said. “It is only nine months since we had the great pleasure of having you and Mrs. Reagan stay with us at Windsor.
“Now we have had the memorable experience of visiting you in your home state of California and of seeing your ranch at Santa Barbara. I knew before we came that we had exported many of our traditions to the United States. But I had not realized before that weather was one of them.”
Reagan, an excellent writer and pen pal, wrote a note of thanks to Elizabeth that still summarizes how Americans feel about the recently passed monarch: “We miss you. I know your visit to our West Coast became a harrowing, tempest-tossed experience but through it all your unfailing good humor and graciousness won the hearts of our people.”
While much has been written about the special bond between America’s 40th president and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it is clear that there was a solid connection between Reagan and Elizabeth.
In 1989, she granted the former president honorary knighthood in recognition of his assistance to the U.K. during the Falkland Wars. This is the highest distinction the U.K. awards foreigners.
Reagan had strong beliefs about freedom and America’s role in the world. His personal relationships were as impactful as his powerful speeches in enacting these beliefs.
Only a handful of leaders were invited to the Reagans’ beloved Rancho del Cielo: Thatcher, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Queen Elizabeth.
His connection with each of them helped change the course of history — for the better.
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