Secret Service agent tells RCF his ‘toss’ woke up First Lady
Kirkman entertained Rotary Club of Farragut members at their meeting Wednesday, Aug. 15, with his experiences — including close interaction with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.
Currently a tactical weapons expert at Bill’s Outpost in Alcoa, Kirkman served with the Secret Service for 27 years — until 2003 — under Reagan and five
other presidents: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
However, his fondest memories were from 1983 to 1986, when he served as a member of Reagan’s presidential detail.
Kirkman recalled a “big, old dog” the Reagans owned. “It looked like a small pony.”
He pointed out Nancy Reagan had an aversion to
air conditioning and wouldn’t allow it, so the windows at the Reagan Ranch in Texas were wide open in the summer.
“So, she could hear everything,” Kirkman said.
On one evening around midnight, he was patrolling the ranch near a pond when the First Family’s dog came to him with a tree limb in its mouth and dropped the limb at Kirkman’s foot, wanting to play fetch.
“I just threw the limb about 10 times,” he said. “I noticed that the windows (where the President and First Lady were sleeping) were open.”
He realized the dog was going to make too much noise, and Kirkman was going to get in trouble.
“They’re in there asleep, and this crazy dog wants to play,” he said. So, he threw the stick in the pond with hopes the dog would leave it alone.
“I heard this little voice (Nancy Reagan’s) say, ‘Agent. Agent? Don’t throw sticks in the pond because he’ll go after them.”
One of the requisites of that detail was to take horseback riding lessons, since Reagan spent much of his free time riding horses on his ranch.
“When you are guarding somebody like that, you have to adapt yourself to what they do,” he said.
“Every time we would go out on a ride, (President Reagan) would get his horse and First Lady’s from the barn,” Kirkman said.
While the President enjoyed riding, the First Lady was not a fan.
“She was scared to death,” Kirkman said. “(The staff) would ride her horse for a half an hour to get it tired (before she rode).
“And she was very inflexible,” he added. “At one point, they were riding, and one agent was assigned to the First Lady, so he rode behind her.
“The horse was taking her under this tree limb. She wasn’t flexible, and she was just holding on for dear life.”
Kirkland said he witnessed the First Lady’s life “being saved.”
“The further she rode under the tree limb, the more it was making her fall out of the saddle; so this agent — he was a good equestrian — he rode up behind her, caught her and put her back up on the horse,” he said.
“And, she looks at him and says, ‘You just saved my life.’ And, he took full advantage of that,” Kirkman added. “Mrs. Reagan still had a bunch of movie star friends in California, and (the agent) was single, so she kept trying to fix him up with some of her rich and powerful friends.”
During the presidential detail, Kirkman was a limo driver for Reagan for a year — which came after the March 30, 1981, assassination attempt when the president was shot.
About his duties in the mid-1980s, “I had the good fortune, also, that Mr. Reagan was president,” he said. “He was a fine gentleman, and he was quite a character.”