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Retired congressman reflects on rural living, Reagan

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Richard Schulze, a retired Pennsylvania congressman, now lives with his wife in a condo at Albemarle Plantation in Hertford. As a member of Congress from 1975 to 1993 and key member of the House Ways and Means Committee, he worked closely with several presidents but none closer than President Reagan.

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By Miles Layton
Chowan Herald

Sunday, October 6, 2019

HERTFORD — The walls of Dick Schulze’s condo are lined with photos of world leaders, past and present. Each picture has a story to tell about how Schulze, a retired Pennsylvania congressman, came to know world leaders such as President Ronald Reagan, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Schulze, now 90, served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives between 1975 and 1993. A Republican, Schulze’s district encompassed portions of Montgomery, Delaware and Chester counties in the western Philadelphia suburbs.

During his career in the House, Schulze rose to serve as a top-ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee and as the senior Republican member on the House Oversight Subcommittee. He also served on the Armed Services Committee and Banking. He chaired the Republican Study Committee, and was the Republican Whip for Pennsylvania.

A few years after Schulze retired, he bought a condo in 1999 at Albemarle Plantation where he lives with his wife, Nancy.

“What attracted us here were the people. ... The people are wonderful,” he said.

The Schulzes could have lived anywhere — even remain in Washington, D.C., where they have a place that new 3rd District Congressman Greg Murphy is using as he transitions to his new job. But the couple chose to live in a small community far away from the cosmopolitan lifestyle.

“I grew up in an area where neighbors knew neighbors, you didn’t have to lock doors, kids would go and come back when it was dark,” Schulze said. “That’s the way it is here. If you really need something, almost any of your neighbors — if they have it, they’ll give it to you. They’ll help you. If people know about it, they’re going to help you. That’s the way the country should be.”

The Schulzes’ condo is a short hop to the golf course and the Albemarle Sound. They made a split-second decision to buy it during a trip through northeastern North Carolina. Schulze said he and his wife were looking for a simple place.

“We stopped here on the way back home, looked around, toured a town house — last one left,” he said. “Really, it was just a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing when we bought it. We like it very much. It is cozy, easy to pack up and leave and come back to.”

Schulze has known many presidents, so his wall photos offer many places to start a conversation.

Schulze said he was one of the “Reagan 13” — a supergroup of conservative congressmen who shaped policy during the Reagan presidency. He said he met Reagan while he was preparing to make a speech at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

At the time the perception of Reagan, particularly in the press, was that he was more of an actor— which he had been — than someone who could be president.

“They were saying then that if he didn’t have his 3 x 5 cards, he couldn’t operate — that he was a stupid actor from Hollywood. That if you don’t hand him a script, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Schulze said.

Schulze said that notion was quickly dispelled as he talked with Reagan.

“We talked about a lot of things and he was very sharp. He knew what was going on in the world. He was firmly grounded in conservative philosophy. He’d been through the mill. He’d been a Democrat. He’d been a liberal. He’d seen what it does and what it doesn’t do,” Schulze said. “I guess the best conservatives are that way, having gone through that metamorphosis.”

Schulze pointed to a photo of Reagan in which he’s surrounded by a small group of congressmen. He recalled the 1980 Republican presidential primary, which Reagan won after a hard-fought contest against George Bush.

During the Iowa Republican Caucus, however, Bush narrowly defeated Reagan. The victory gave Bush momentum going into the New Hampshire primary. Schulze said he knew Reagan was in trouble.

“When George Bush won Iowa, Reagan’s money was shut off like turning off a spigot,” he said.

In that dark hour, Schulze said he and other GOP congressmen stepped up to raise money for Reagan.

“We sat down and said, ‘we’ve got to do something to get the money flowing,”’ he said. “It worked. We got the money flowing. Reagan told us later that he felt that was the turning point in the presidential campaign. That group was the first one to have dinner with him in the White House after he was elected.”

Schulze also recalled in vivid detail the day Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt. On March 30, 1981, Schulze was at the White House — he was Reagan’s next appointment — when the news broke.

“As I came in, the Secret Service agent said, ‘Congressman have you heard?’ I said, ‘Heard about what?’ He said, ‘There’s been an incident.’ I said, ‘What kind of incident?’ He said, ‘It’s a shooting.’ I said, ‘The president has been shot?’ He said, ‘We’re not sure yet.’”

Schulze said he went over to the window overlooking the White House’s front lawn as uncertainty about what had happened began to swirl. He then went to an office nearby where television sets were broadcasting news from the three major networks.

“That’s when the word came through that the president had been shot, so Reagan went to the hospital,” he said. “When a guy heard that, he went over and kicked the television. I thought it was going to explode, but it didn’t.”

Looking back on that moment, Schulze said, “Those were tenuous times, tenuous times.”

Part two of this story in next week’s edition will feature Schulze’s memories of other presidents and world leaders, as well as how he broke into politics, and his thoughts on current affairs.

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