WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Reaction from around the globe to Ronald Reagan's passing yesterday was emotional and swift. Foreign leaders and Americans, especially those who knew and worked with the former president - whether or not they stood by his policies - saluted him for infusing hope in people, for believing deeply in the strength of country and for helping draw a curtain on the Cold War era.
President Bush led the nation in mourning Reagan's death in brief remarks he made after midnight in Paris, where he is preparing to travel to Normandy to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
"This is a sad hour in the life of America," Bush said, speaking from the residence of the U.S. ambassador to France, after calling Nancy Reagan to express his condolences. "A great American life has come to an end.
"Ronald Reagan won America's respect with his greatness and won its love with his goodness," said Bush, who in many ways has sought to emulate Reagan's brand of conservatism and style of leadership through bold action.
"He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom. He leaves behind a nation he restored and a world he helped save."
In Britain, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was the first world leader to travel to see Reagan after his inauguration in 1981 and who forged a warm relationship with him, said in a statement last night that Reagan "will be missed not only by those who knew him and not only by the nation that he served so proudly and loved so deeply, but also by millions of men and women who live in freedom today because of the policies he pursued."
Thatcher, who once called Reagan "the second-most-important man in my life," added that Reagan "had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the Cold War for liberty, and he did it without a shot being fired. To have achieved so much against such odds and with such humor and humanity made Ronald Reagan a truly great American hero."
Indeed, praise for Reagan's style and accomplishment generally crossed party and ideological lines. Britain's more left-leaning prime minister, Tony Blair, "heard with sadness" of Reagan's death, according to a spokesman at 10 Downing Street.
"At home, his vision and leadership restored national self-confidence and brought some significant changes to U.S. politics," Blair's spokesman said. "While abroad, the negotiation of arms-control agreements in his second term and his statesman-like pursuit of more stable relations with the Soviet Union helped bring about the end of the Cold War. He will be greatly missed by his many friends and admirers on this side of the Atlantic."
Former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, said he would remember him "for the way he personified the indomitable optimism of the American people, and for keeping America at the forefront of the fight for freedom for people everywhere."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, said that "America has lost an icon."
"Ronald Reagan's leadership will inspire Americans for generations to come," Daschle said. "His patriotism and devotion to our country will never be forgotten."
Last night, Bush ordered American flags on federal properties across the country to be flown at half-staff for 30 days. In baseball stadiums and at the Belmont Stakes, fans took part in moments of silence.
The former president's body was expected to be taken to Simi Valley, Calif., to his presidential library and museum, then flown sometime this week to Washington. His coffin was to remain for a period of days in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
A funeral date has not been set, but a service was expected late next week at the National Cathedral in Washington. Aides said the president will attend, though there were no immediate changes announced to Bush's itinerary. The president is scheduled to fly today from Normandy, France, to Sea Island, Ga., where he is to serve as host of the annual G-8 summit of industrialized nations through Thursday.
Eventually, Reagan's body will be returned to the presidential library in California for a sunset burial.
Last night, in Reagan's hometown of Dixon, Ill., Mayor Jim Burke said he was organizing a memorial service in the next few days. He said his town "had a deep attachment to Reagan, regardless of what his political persuasion was."
In Eastern Europe, some officials and ordinary citizens mourned the loss of a man they felt had liberated them from the grip of Soviet communism. Laurentiu Ivan, a customs officer in Romania, said: "It is due to him that we are free."
Some of Reagan's critics were blunt in recalling their opposition to his conservative ideas and belief in small government, yet fondly remembered his contributions to ending the Cold War.
"I am not enamored with his domestic policies," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat. But Wynn added that Reagan "gets high marks for his successful fight against communism."
Most who knew Reagan and observed his career said they saw a man with a special flourish and political instinct, and an ability to connect with people, that made his rise to the presidency unsurprising.
"He was our hometown boy made good," said Wanita Trader, a leader at the church Reagan had attended in Dixon. "We feel that we nurtured a president, and we are pretty proud of the fact."
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former Vietnam War prisoner of war, said he befriended Reagan after returning from Vietnam but knew of him while he was abroad.
"My fellow prisoners of war and I would discuss - in tap codes and whispered conversations - the governor of California who was giving such eloquent voice to the convictions we believed we had been sent to war to advance," McCain said last night.
"I doubt Ronald Reagan was much surprised to become president, despite his humble origins, and I know for certain he never took for granted a single day he occupied the office," McCain added. "He lived in a shining city on a hill, and he never forgot it."
James A. Baker III, who served Reagan at various times as White House chief of staff and Treasury secretary, said his former boss "restored America's source of pride and confidence in itself. He was a wonderful person to work for and a truly great president. His willingness to stick to his principles changed the world."
Reagan's successor, George Bush, who had run against him in a Republican primary before becoming his vice president, said, "We had been political opponents and became close friends." He added: "He could take a stand ... and do it without creating bitterness or creating enmity on the part of other people."
Sun staff writer Todd Richissin in London, and staff writers Kimberly A.C. Wilson and Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington and the Associated Press contributed to this article.