Former First Lady Nancy Reagan has passed away of congestive heart failure. She was 94.
Born Anne Francis Robbins, her mother would later re-marry neurosurgeon (and prominent Republican) Loyal Davis and be known as Nancy Davis. She aspired to be an actress and signed a contract with MGM in 1949. However, her career was nearly derailed before it began when her name appeared on the Hollywood blacklist. Davis turned to the Screen Actors Guild for help and sought out the counsel of its President. That man was Ronald Reagan.
They would marry three years later and have two children. As Nancy Reagan, she would gain national prominence as the First Lady of California before moving into the White House. Reagan would be maligned for the extravagant state dinners she would hold especially early in her husband’s first term as the country still struggled in recession. Most people probably remember the First Lady for her anti-drug campaign “Just Say No!”. Reagan did increase breast cancer awareness after she was diagnosed with the disease in 1987. Going public with the disease would encourage women to get mammograms which undoubtedly save tens of thousands of lives.
The First Lady was an extraordinarily influential figure in the White House and was not someone you wanted on your bad side as Don Regan would find out in his short-lived tenure as White House Chief of Staff. Perhaps her greatest contribution during her time in the White House was persuading President Reagan to agree to a summit with Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The two men would get along famously. Mrs. Reagan and Mrs. Gorbachev not so much. Nevertheless, the First Lady helped President Reagan make the first step towards the INF Treaty.
In recent years, Reagan was active at the Reagan Library and was a regular presence at Republican Party presidential debates. She would make headlines for breaking with Republicans over her support for embryonic stem cell research. Of course, her support was a consequence of President Reagan’s decade long battle with Alzheimer’s to which he succumbed in 2004.
While I’m sure others here at TAS can offer more personal insights into the First Lady (particularly Jeff Lord), I do wish to share this memory. When I think of Nancy Reagan, I think of the 52-year marriage she had with Ronald Reagan. During President Reagan’s funeral, I remember her breaking down in tears as the casket was led away and Ron, Patti and Michael Reagan coming to comfort her. I remember it because I don’t believe the enormity of his passing hit her until that very moment. Beneath the veneer of glamour lay a loving humanity for all to see.
Here is a video of Nancy Reagan singing “Thanks for the Memories” to Bob Hope on the occasion of his 85th birthday.