• Olivia Hertel

Peggy Noonan: The Woman Behind the Big Man

Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman

By: Olivia Hertel

I was first introduced to Peggy Noonan during my previous semester of college in my PR Writing class. During the unit, we were going over ghostwriting. Who else to use as an example other than one of the most famous instances of ghostwriting: President Reagan’s speech in reaction to the Challenger disaster of 1986. The woman who wrote this beloved speech was Peggy Noonan, a White House speechwriter. She wrote the words that stuck with thousands as they watched the president address the nation. The last sentence of that address is one that many will never forget.

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

Peggy Noonan with President Ronald Reagan
Peggy Noonan with President Ronald Reagan

Many assume that Reagan wrote the speech since it was him speaking, but presidents use ghostwriting more than we’ll ever know. Just like in this case, oftentimes the words in the speech are written by someone other than the speaker. I love the fact that there was a woman behind some of the works of this big man.

Interest in Politics

Peggy’s interest began with the election of John F. Kennedy. As an Irish American family, the Noonans followed his election closely. Starting here, Noonan began following the news. During her college years, America was involved in the Vietnam War. While many students on her campus protested against the war, she advocated for it, believing the war was essential to ending communism. After graduating college she found a job at WEEI Radio in Boston working the overnight shift. By the end of her three years at this news station, she was a fan of the new president Ronald Reagan. Her goal was to work in his administration, so she found speechwriting work at the Old Executive Office Building that is next door to the White House.

Work with the Presidents

In her first four months of work she never met the president, and mostly wrote minor speeches. She finally got her big break when her work to honor the 40th anniversary of Normandy impressed the president. After that, he called on her to write some of his most important speeches; her most famous being the one after the challenger. That speech was voted one of the best political speeches of the century. She then left Reagan’s campaign to join George H.W. Bush’s. She wrote his Republican Convention speech and is oftentimes credited with securing Bush the nomination and win of the election. After writing Reagan’s farewell address, she decided to leave speech writing.

Pulitzer Prize Winner

For a few years after she left the White House, she wrote books about her experiences there. She then began writing for the Wall Street Journal, and since 2000 she has published her column “Declarations” in their paper. In 2017, Peggy Noonan accepted the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. She won for a series of columns she wrote that connected readers to her shared values during one of the nation’s most diverse political campaigns.

Peggy Noonan accepts her Pulitzer from Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger
Peggy accepted her Pulitzer from Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger

Peggy Noonan has been and continues to be a leader in the world of journalism. She started at a radio station and has worked all the way up to a Pulitzer Prize winner. Her legacy will live on for years after she is gone. Not only has she been behind some of the great works of one president but has helped another win a presidency! I guess the saying is true: behind every great man is a great woman.

About the Author

Olivia Hertel is a new public relations professional in Denton, Texas. Hertel is currently finishing her degree in journalism with a concentration in public relations from the University of North Texas.