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ONLY TIME WILL show us Ronald Reagan's true rank as a world leader. But whatever their politics, event professionals must admire his remarkable funeral ceremonies last month.

There were many elements that made the weeklong series of events so compelling. It was the extraordinary collection of famous figures, ranging from world leaders from the last 20 years to veteran entertainers. It was the unexpectedly large crowds: The turnout to view Reagan's casket at his presidential library was so great — estimated at more than 105,000 — that the library had to extend the public viewing period by five hours.

But most of all, it was the stirring rituals that moved us, from the 19th century tradition of the riderless horse bearing boots facing backward, to the firing of three volleys — a nod to the fabled Roman practice of mourners casting dirt on the coffin three times, calling the deceased by name three times and saying farewell three times.

Of course, such an elaborate series of events with huge crowds and high-profile guests, particularly in these days of gut-wrenching security concerns, doesn't come off without elaborate planning. And the Reagan funeral was a planning masterstroke.

As former commanders in chief of the military, all U.S. presidents are entitled to military honors upon their death, and are asked when leaving office to begin preparing their funerals. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, that process began for Reagan in 1989. What makes the story notable is the dedication of a handful of “advance men” who staged many memorable moments during the Reagan administration — from the D-Day commemoration in Normandy in 1984 to the memorial service for the Challenger astronauts in 1986 to the call to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 to tear down the Berlin Wall. They agreed to create and execute the plan for the Reagan funeral, the Journal says — working without pay — to form the indelible impression upon hearts and upon history that they have long believed this president deserves.

The advance men credit Reagan, the Journal says, with recognizing the value of their work. “{Reagan} was an actor, and he understood that there was somebody who planned the lighting, somebody who built the set and wrote the script,” one explains.

Death jars us, but rituals such as these restore our sense of clarity and set us back on course. The poignant ceremonies honoring Ronald Reagan show the unique power of special events to serve as lighthouses in our lives.

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