Q&A with Susan Allen, author of The Remarkable Ronald Reagan

Susan Allen was called the “secret weapon” of husband George Allen’s (R-Va.) Senate campaign last year, creating chatter that she herself could become a candidate someday.      

Allen is leaving the door open for now even as she focuses on the launch of her new children’s book on former President Ronald Reagan. She recently talked to The Hill about a possible run for office, the Republican roots of her family and her own close encounters with the Gipper.

Q: In the 2012 campaign, you were called your husband’s ‘secret weapon.’ Any chance you’d ever run for office?

I’ve been asked for years. I think you have to have a reason to run. You don’t just run for the sake of running, although I know plenty of politicians who are willing to do that. But I’ve enjoyed doing what I’m doing now. Our children are 25, 22 and 15, and I enjoy being involved in their lives still. … We’ll see.

Q: That was not a Shermanesque response, as they say.

You never know about life’s twists and turns. … I love Virginia as much as my husband does, and I love helping Virginia as much as I can, and that includes helping other elected officials or helping people who are candidates, as I’ve done for many years — not just my husband’s campaign but for a lot of other candidates. 

Q: Why did you decide to write a kid’s book on Ronald Reagan?

It’s really exciting to share Reagan’s story with young people. George and I have been involved in the Young America’s Foundation, which owns and operates the Reagan ranch, and they, for years, have done a fantastic job with college and high school kids. They do seminars all around the country. …. But this younger set of kids of the elementary age really had a tough time finding information on Reagan, so it was a great effort put forth. … I’m excited to share his story with young people. They do need to know about this president. He did a lot of great things.

Q: What kind  of lessons from Reagan’s life can young people take from the book?

I think one of the biggest messages they will get is that you really — kind of in the American model — dream big. Ronald Reagan did. He wanted to be an actor, but along the way he did several other things. He was a lifeguard. He saved 77 lives working at the river near his home in the summer. He was a radio announcer for baseball and went on to be an actor. 

Q: The book seems more about his personal life than his professional life.

It is very much so, although we do talk about how he told [then-Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall’ [in Berlin]. That was such a significant event in world history. … The fact that he was shot in an attempted assassination but handled it with humor. … We talk about significant times he played such an important role — including when the Challenger exploded, and he gave that touching address to the nation.

Q: Do you plan to write any more books?

I don’t know. We’ll see. I’ve always enjoyed writing. … I really liked sharing the Reagan story. He was an Allen family friend. … He would come to football practices in California when my father-in-law [former NFL head coach George Allen] was coaching there and they struck up a friendship. Then, in 1976, Ronald Reagan asked my husband, who was in law school at the time, to run Young Virginians for Reagan. And my husband had not been involved in organized politics at all, but Reagan called him to say, ‘Hey, would you just tell people that you like me and good things about me.’ And my husband said ‘Sure.’ So George got into action and that was really beginning of George’s interest and action in politics. So the family has always had an interest and ties with Ronald Reagan and admired him so very much. 

Q: So you met Reagan?

Oh yes, a couple of times. … My first time was in 1987. We went with my father-in-law, who, at the time, was chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. And Coach Allen wanted to present a football to Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office. … So my husband and I joined them. It was wonderful. Ronald Reagan was charming. You immediately liked him. He had a great sunny disposition and great sense of humor. He looked enough like my father-in-law that my children, later on, when they would see him and Coach Allen on TV, they’d get them confused.

Q: What are you and Sen. Allen up to these days?

We’re doing all sorts of things. … Nothing really seems to simmer down. … Our life is still almost as crazy, although we may have a little bit more control over the craziness. 

Q: Are you involved in the 2013 races in Virginia?

They’ve just gone through their nomination fight. I haven’t gotten too involved in that. I’m helping [state delegate] Barbara Comstock, who I think is one of the best members of the legislature. 

Q: I have to ask about E.W. Jackson, who has made several controversial statements about gays and other social issues. He also ran against Sen. Allen in the 2012 Senate primary.

He did, so I would see him on the trail frequently. Politics is a tough sport, so we’ll see what happens. … It’s an interesting time in Virginia.