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For ex-staffers, one final task

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - "Is David Stockman on the list?" one harried volunteer asked another in the Reagan funeral offices at the Mayflower Hotel.

"It's being worked on," the second volunteer replied, acknowledging that there had been some "oversights" in invitations to former President Ronald Reagan's national service at the Washington National Cathedral tomorrow.

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So was it possible that Stockman, the Reagan administration budget director reviled at the White House for his tell-all tales that Reagan's supply-side economics did not work, had not been invited?

"I think they'll find a place for him," the volunteer replied carefully. "He's David Stockman."

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Such was the scene yesterday in a chaotic suite of hotel offices in downtown Washington, where former staff members of the Reagan White House had assembled from around the country for a final reunion of sorts. Their task was to handle the 1,000 invitations that Nancy Reagan had sent to family, friends and former members of her husband's administration, and it was, as one of them put it, "insanity in here."

Like invitations to inaugurals and White House state dinners, tickets to the first presidential funeral in Washington in more than three decades were in extraordinary demand.

"It's hard, it's bad, it's voluminous," said Michele Woodward, a former member of Reagan's presidential advance staff who was one of about 10 women, all of them one-time Reagan administration members, answering the incessantly ringing phones.

Rick Ahearn, a former Reagan advance staff member who is the family's representative in charge of funeral logistics, put it this way: "It's important for people to understand that Mrs. Reagan is burying her husband right now with fewer than 1,000 seats available to her."

Although the National Cathedral holds 4,000 people, 3,000 seats have been reserved for members of Congress, the diplomatic corps (each nation represented in Washington received two tickets), the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and foreign leaders.

But Mrs. Reagan's list was the one that mattered, and as of yesterday afternoon, it was unclear how many on the list had accepted, or even who was on it. Ahearn did say that all Cabinet members from the two terms of the Reagan administration had been invited, as had all members of the Reagan White House senior staff. But who ranked as "senior staff" members was murky, Ahearn said.

"We have a limited number of tickets," he said. "You can't go by strict protocol."

Generally, Ahearn and the other volunteers said, callers had not made angry demands, pulled rank or otherwise exhibited the kind of over-the-top Washington behavior that normally accompanies such historic and status-filled events.

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"It's not as bad as I thought it would be," said Robert Higdon, a Reagan family friend who had helped plan the funeral and was bustling around the staff offices in the Mayflower yesterday. "People are just more or less saying, 'I'd really like to come.' There hasn't been anybody calling and saying, 'This person was so-and-so and so-and-so.'"

Later in the day, shortly before the arrival of Reagan's coffin at Andrews Air Force Base, another reunion of Reagan officials got under way to literal pandemonium over a false alarm on Capitol Hill. At 4:40 p.m., while top Reagan administration officials were sipping cocktails and eating canapes in a Senate reception room, police officers burst in and shouted for everyone to flee the building.

"This is not a drill!" members of the Capitol Police screamed. "There is an incoming aircraft! You have one minute!"

Among those chased out of the building were former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.; former Vice President Dan Quayle; Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; former Attorney General Edwin A. Meese III; Richard V. Allen, a former national security adviser; Kenneth M. Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff; Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corp.; and Margaret D. Tutwiler, a former Reagan White House aide who became the State Department spokeswoman in the first Bush administration and the ambassador to Morocco in the current.

In a scene reminiscent of the evacuation of the White House on Sept. 11, 2001, women took off their heels and men took off their jackets and everybody raced down the steps, hair and handbags flying, pursued by police who told them they could not stop in spite of the heat.

By the time the group did stop in a patch of grass between the Senate building and Union Station, everyone was soaked with sweat.

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"Some of these people are not 13," Tutwiler observed.

The cause of the false alarm was a plane flying south of Reagan National Airport with a radio problem, so that air traffic controllers lost track of it, triggering the panic. But within a half-hour, an all-clear was given and the former Reagan officials headed back into the building.

The reception was the first of many events planned in Washington this week for former Reagan officials. For those not invited to the funeral, two Reagan administration alumni groups are organizing a breakfast tomorrow to watch the National Cathedral service on a big screen at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, not far from the White House; tomorrow afternoon, there will be a faux Reagan Cabinet meeting in the building, with at least 10 former Cabinet members expected on stage.

Today, the conservative Heritage Foundation that Reagan put on the political map will hold an afternoon tribute to the former president in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. Those expected are former Secretary of State George P. Shultz; William P. Clark, a former national security adviser; Peggy Noonan, Reagan's top White House speechwriter; and Meese.


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