Remarks at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner in New York, New York

October 18, 1984

Thank you very much. I have to catch the shuttle. [Laughter]

May it please Your Excellency, Archbishop O'Connor, and members of the reverend clergy, Governor Cuomo, Senators Moynihan and D'Amato, Mayor Koch, and Mr. Toastmaster, Sonny Werblin, and distinguished friends: I thank you for that welcome.

I must say, I have traveled the banquet circuit for many years. I've never quite understood the logistics of dinners like this, and how the absence of one individual could cause three of us to not have seats. [Laughter] But that's enough of that. [Laughter]

I'm grateful for your invitation and honored to be here. And I can't help but feel that four great Americans are with us here in spirit tonight: Al Smith, of course, the Happy Warrior, whom time and respect and affectionate memory have elevated beyond partisanship; the beloved Francis Cardinal Spellman, whose remarkable works of charity so notably include his establishment of this Al Smith Dinner 38 years ago; the great Jewish philanthropist, Charles Silver. He was enlisted by Cardinal Spellman as chairman of these dinners and raised millions for hospitals serving all faiths; and finally, Terence Cardinal Cooke, that gentle soul whom I, for one, shall never forget.

All of them are gone now, gone to God -- Cardinal Cooke and Charlie Silver within a year's passing, as you've been told. And all of them personify the great commandment -- to love our fellow man.

Here we are, then, at the height of a season marked by differences of opinion, and yet, all this striving and all these contesting issues fade to insignificance in the clear light of example that these four men set for us, each one in his own unique way: Al Smith, in his lifelong struggles for the working man and woman; Cardinal Spellman, as a prince and builder of the church; Charles Silver, as a friend and colleague in ecumenical service to humanity; and Cardinal Cooke, whom I knew best in circumstances of dire spiritual need.

Nothing could have meant more to me and to Nancy than Cardinal Cooke's visit with us at the White House while I was recovering from young Mr. Hinckley's unwelcome attentions. His Eminence offered prayers and encouragement that maintained us in a time of genuine personal need -- a need far more serious, I know now, than we or almost anyone at the time realized.

And so it was only natural that Nancy and I should have been so profoundly grief-stricken upon learning in August of last year that the Cardinal was dying. Together, we telephoned our dear friend in New York to tell him of our heartfelt prayers for him and to thank him once again for all he had done to comfort and reassure us in our hour of need. Our prayerful concern for the Cardinal, I assured him, was shared by millions of other Americans grateful for all that he had done on behalf of his country.

His letter of September 15th, which followed our call, said our prayers, good wishes, and loving concern ``are a source of great comfort to me.'' But then he wrote, ``I want you to know that I'm offering my prayers and my suffering for the gift of God's peace among all the members of His human family.''

Nancy and I will always be grateful that we were able to visit him in New York and, as it turned out, only days before his death. We were told when we arrived that he had been in great pain for the previous 48 hours, so much so that they'd feared he wouldn't be able to receive us. But when we arrived, he was so much like his old self, it was hard to believe that he was desperately ill.

Being Terence Cooke, he couldn't resist doing a little lobbying in behalf of a cause that concerned him: ``As a nation known for its compassion,'' he said, ``the United States has accomplished so much through the years in advancing the cause of international justice and peace through its programs of economic assistance to the less fortunate peoples of the world.'' And then he acknowledged the appropriation that I had approved for help to sub-Saharan African nations.

He also talked of my problems, and he said, ``When I join the Lord I'll continue to pray for you.'' He paused, and then, with something of an abashed or self-deprecatory smile, very simply he added, ``Maybe I'm being a little presumptuous in assuming I'll be with the Lord.'' Well, 11 days later he left us, and none of us have any doubt that he joined the Lord.

I have presumed to share this personal experience with you tonight because it says so much about our gentle friend, Terence Cooke. It says much also about Al Smith and Cardinal Spellman and Charlie Silver, for, linked in charity, linked in service, linked in humanity, they are linked by this occasion.

I think it should make us proud to have known these great Americans and their works of love for their fellow man. I think it should make us just a little bit prouder than ever to be Americans.

Archbishop O'Connor, I know that you're profoundly aware of the great tradition in which you now pursue God's work. And in this you have my every good wish and, I know, those also of a grateful nation. And if you wouldn't think that I was invading your field, could I just say, in addition to a heartfelt thank you to all of you, God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:20 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He was introduced by Archbishop John J. O'Connor, Archbishop of New York and president of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation.

Prior to the dinner, the President attended a reception for dinner guests at the hotel. The President also greeted additional guests in the Empire Room and the Hilton Room before addressing the guests in the Grand Ballroom. Following the dinner, the President returned to Washington, DC.