Rick Ahearn, on the day Reagan was shot, 1981
|Born||1949 (age 67–68)
Chestnut Hill, Boston, Massachusetts
|Occupation||international political and corporate consultant|
Frederick L. "Rick" Ahearn (born 1949) is an American political and corporate consultant, currently serving as Executive Vice President of Potomac Communications Strategies in Alexandria, Virginia. He is best known for his long service as lead advanceman for Ronald Reagan, as a candidate in 1979-80 and for most of his two terms as President; he was standing close to Reagan during his attempted assassination on March 30, 1981. Ahearn was also a senior adviser and planner for the presidential funerals and burials of Reagan (in 2004) and Gerald Ford (in 2006-07), as well as Jack Kemp (in 2009) and First Lady Nancy Reagan (in 2016). In all, he has served five U.S. Presidents and six Vice Presidents, and aided 14 presidential campaigns from 1968 to 2016.
Early life and political jobs
Ahearn was born and raised in Chestnut Hill, the son of Francis X. Ahearn, one-time President of the Boston City Council and First Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Doris E. (Johnson) Ahearn. At age 9, he handed out circulars promoting Boston Democrats; as a teenager, he organized crowds for political rallies. He attended Boston Latin School, graduated from Brighton High School, and studied marketing at Boston College.
His first political job was for Mayor John Collins. At the age of 19, he worked on the presidential campaign of Democratic Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, advancing the nominee's September 1968 rally in downtown Boston with Senator Kennedy. At 21, he worked for Republican Governor Francis Sargent. He again aided Humphrey in his 1972 Democratic primary campaign; however, Ahearn (raised in a devout Catholic home) was revulsed by the liberalism of eventual Democratic nominee George McGovern, and switched his allegiance to Republican Richard M. Nixon. He left college to serve as executive director of Democrats for Nixon in New England (under Collins), and later to organize Democrats for Nixon in California. After the Republican’s landslide victory, he continued his political work for Nixon, working in the White House as a political aide in several special Congressional elections in 1973 and 1974.
In 1976, Ahearn served as Northeast regional political director for the President Ford Committee, alongside Haley Barbour (who oversaw the South). In 1979 and 1980, he served as advanceman for candidate Ronald Reagan. He first joined the Reagan Presidential Advance Office on January 20, 1981, as Staff Assistant to the President.
Attempted assassination of Reagan, 1981
Ahearn was the lead White House advanceman for President Reagan’s speech to the AFL-CIO at the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981. In the now-familiar video footage and photographs, he is seen (in light-grey suit, striped tie and spectacles) preceding the President and then standing beside him while shots are fired by John Hinckley, Jr. Ahearn stayed at the scene, cradling the head of wounded Press Secretary James Brady until medics arrived. He then proceeded to George Washington University Hospital, where he ushered the First Lady to the emergency room, then was the first aide to brief reporters (though before network cameras arrived; he can be glimpsed in the background of some later on-camera briefings). In 2001, Ahearn was interviewed on CNN's Larry King Live, and later appeared in a History Channel documentary, concerning the Reagan assassination attempt.
In 2015, Ahearn was one of those publicly objecting to the release of assassin John Hinckley from custody. He told NBC, "I think it's important to remember what this man did. He shot the President of the United States. He condemned Jim Brady to a lifetime sentence in a wheelchair, a life of pain. I feel he's a threat to society if he should be released from treatment without supervision of any kind."
Continued service for Reagan
In November 1981, President Reagan appointed Ahearn as Chairman of the Federal Regional Council of New England. He served in this capacity, as well as Regional Representative of the Secretary of Labor, Raymond Donovan until August 1984. He then left the administration to join President Reagan's re-election campaign staff, picking sites and helping arrange (among other events) the October 1984 whistle-stop tour of Ohio, aboard the same train as used by Harry S Truman in 1948.
Following Reagan’s re-election, Ahearn served as a Deputy Director of the 1985 Presidential Inaugural Committee. In February 1985, he resumed his post as Regional Representative of the Secretary of Labor in Region I. Ahearn eventually rejoined the Presidential Advance Office, in February 1986, and was appointed Deputy Director of Presidential Advance in February 1988. In this capacity, he coordinated Reagan’s final campaign trips as President, on behalf of the Bush-Quayle ’88 effort and the entire Republican ticket, and aided Reagan's communication efforts in general.
Ahearn was often an advocate of spontaneous appearances by Reagan with ordinary people; he personally scouted and arranged for a memorable January 1983 visit to a Dorchester, Mass. workingmen's bar (the Eire Pub) where the President hoisted a mug of beer with patrons. In 1988, Ahearn argued for a Reagan walkthrough at Moscow's crowded Arbat shopping area, during his visit to sign the INF Treaty with Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev. This paralleled Gorbachev's unscheduled walk through Washington in 1987; Ahearn's arguments won the Reagans' approval, over Secret Service objections, and the Moscow tour was a success.
HUD and Kemp
After aiding with the Transition of the two Republican Administrations, Ahearn accepted an offer from Jack Kemp, incoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary. After President Bush’s defeat in 1992, he continued with Kemp, serving as Senior Advisor to him at Empower America, a public policy organization founded by Kemp, Education Secretary William Bennett and former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.
When Kemp was chosen in 1996 as nominee for Vice President by Robert J. Dole, Ahearn went to work for the Dole-Kemp Committee. In 2009, when Kemp died, Ahearn was in charge of arrangements for his memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Professional activities, 1999-present
Ahearn was Deputy Campaign Manager for the Steve Forbes for President Committee in 1999-2000. Forbes was defeated for the GOP nomination by George W. Bush. Following that effort, Ahearn was hired to help manage the campaign of Congressman Rick Lazio for the U.S. Senate, against First Lady Hillary Clinton. Lazio was defeated, in the most expensive Senate campaign in U.S. history.
In 2001 and 2002, Ahearn returned to California as Campaign Manager for Bill Simon in his quest to win the Republican nomination for Governor. Simon was victorious in the March 2002 primary against former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Ahearn then left the campaign and returned to the East Coast; in the fall, Simon was defeated by Democratic incumbent Gray Davis.
In 2007 and early 2008, he served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Operations of Rudolph Giuliani’s presidential bid. His duties included training and supervision of advance staffers, and debate negotiations and execution.
Later in 2008, Ahearn returned to California to serve as Deputy Campaign Manager for the Yes on 8 campaign, which scored a surprise triumph in November. "Rick is absolutely the best in the business. Having Rick on board is a real boon to Yes on 8," said Campaign Co-Manager Frank Schubert. "He's extremely well respected and has the ability to make good things happen."
In the closing months of the 2012 election, Ahearn coordinated advance for the Vice Presidential campaign of Congressman Paul Ryan.
Ahearn was a senior adviser to the Donald Trump presidential campaign, making arrangements for the fall 2016 debates against Hillary Clinton, among other duties, and after the win was a senior consultant to the Trump-Pence Inaugural Committee.
Supervising Presidential Funerals
In 2004, Ahearn (together with James Hooley) was called upon by the Reagan family to oversee the arrangements for the first presidential funeral since Nixon’s in 1994. The Reagan state funeral that June was a massive undertaking with full military honors, memorial services and a procession through Washington D.C. The Californian’s body lay in state at the U.S. Capitol (the first President to do so since 1973), then was flown to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California for interment.
Ahearn also served as a senior adviser for Gerald R. Ford’s presidential funeral and burial, whose arrangements were directed by Red Cavaney. Ford’s ceremonies in December 2006 and January 2007 was, by his choice, more modest, and centered near his desert home in Rancho Mirage, California, a funeral service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and interment at his presidential library in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Ahearn’s management of the Reagan funeral in particular drew scorn from some liberal observers. A 2009 book by Will Bunch, Tear Down This Myth, suggested that the ceremonies were choreographed with a political agenda in mind. Bunch wrote in 2011 of pro-Reagan mythmaking that "No time was that more true than in the days that marked Reagan’s death and funeral in June 2004. In fact, a team of Reagan’s former White House advance team – the people in charge of spectacular backdrops for the Gipper’s soundbites while he was president – spent years creating a media-friendly, pre-packaged memorial that would burnish the Reagan myth forever. It was led by former aides Jim Hooley and Rick Ahearn, who even gave their plan a catchy name: Operation Serenade." As Matthew Dallek noted in a review of Bunch’s book, “Bunch shows a ‘myth machine’ has diligently worked to polish Reagan's historical reputation and cement his status as one of America's presidential giants. Bunch writes, for instance, that Reagan's defenders viewed his weeklong funeral celebration in June 2004 as, in the words of former White House aide Rick Ahearn, 'a legacy-building event.'"
Ahearn remained close to Nancy Reagan and her family, and was involved in planning the mostly private funeral before the First Lady's death in March 2016. "The passing of a first lady is not a state occasion per se," said Ahearn. "She was quite a private person, especially in her later years," Ahearn said. 
Ahearn is a widower, married to the late Pamela Gardner Ahearn (1954–2007), a senior protocol officer for Presidents and the U.S. House of Representatives. They had met while working on the gubernatorial campaign of John Dalton of Virginia in 1977. Ahearn said he experienced Nancy Reagan's compassion firsthand after Pamela died in 2007. "We shared a lot of tears," Ahearn said. "She was trying to encourage me, and telling me what it was like for her to lose her husband."
Ahearn lives in Alexandria, Virginia and Falmouth, Mass. He has a brother, Kevin P. Ahearn, of Lynn, Mass.
- Boston Globe', 28 June 1980
- CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and NBC Huntley-Brinkley Report, Sept. 19, 1968, accessed through the Vanderbilt Library News Archive.
- Boston Globe, 28 June 1980
- Boston Globe, 28 June 1980
- CNN, Transcript of Larry King Live, 30 March 2001
- NBC Today Show, April 23, 2015 (transcript)
- Los Angeles Times, 2 February 2006, James Gerstenzang
- Dorchester Atheneum, June 2, 1983 supplement, accessible thry http://www.dorchesteratheneum.org/page.php?id=2851; Ahearn is visible in picture 3 (of 5 on the page)
- Kuhn, Jim, Ronald Reagan In Private: A Memoir of My Years in the White House (Sentinel / Penguin, 2004), pp. 240-243
- Los Angeles Times, 24 December 2001, Patt Morrison, Inside Politics column
- Times of London, 28 March 2006, Jeremy Page, "Revolution is reversed with a little spin from the West"
- The Ukrainian Weekly, 16 April 2006, Alexander Balaban
- National Journal, 24 January 2008, Matthew Berger http://hotlineoncall.nationaljournal.com/archives/2008/01/rudys_dep_campa.php
- Press release, 14 October 2008, protectmarriage.com; accessed through US Newswire
- Ruane, Michael E., Washington Post, January 19, 2017, "After 11 inaugurations, the guy who makes it happen has it well mapped out Mike Wagner has gone from tuba player at Nixon's inauguration to lead planner for Trump's"
- New York Times, 8 June 2004, Elisabeth Bumiller and Elizabeth Becker, "Down to the Last Detail, a Reagan-Style Funeral"
- Bunch, Will, 4 Feb 2011, http://tenthltr2u.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/book-excerpt-how-the-media-created-the-legend-of-ronald-reagan-from-tear-down-this-myth-by-will-bunch/
- American Scholar magazine, 22 June 2009, Dallek, Matthew, “Not ready for Mt. Rushmore: reconciling the myth of Ronald Reagan with the reality”
- Boston Herald, March 8, 2016, "Global guest list for Reagan funeral"
- Boston Globe, Obituary, 30 March 2007
- Encarnacao, Jack, Boston Herald, March 7, 2016, "A life of dignity, charm, compassion"