In Memoriam

Lyn Nofziger: An Appreciation

He was not just a conservative but a Reagan conservative.

By 3.28.06

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Lyn Nofziger, who passed away from cancer Monday at his longtime home in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, was the epitome of the cliche, "Salt of the earth." Rumpled, cantankerous, outspoken, and yet sublime, Nofziger was a witness with a front row seat to both Reagan Revolutions, the first one that took place in the 1960s and '70s on Lyn's native soil, California, and the second one that took place on the national and then international stage in the 1980s.

It was Nofziger who fielded reporters' frantic questions about a gravely wounded Reagan after John Hinckley nearly took his life shortly after becoming president. It was Nofziger who knew enough about Reagan's Rock of Gibraltar, Nancy, to never cross her. And it was Nofziger who, in his latter years, never shied away from challenging a conservative movement that had lost its Reagan values to return to those rock bed principles.

Late last year, Nofziger took President Bush to task in his highly amusing "Musings" blog: "I am one of thousands of Americans who is on what used to be called the president's Christmas card list. As a result, a card from George and Laura arrived in my mail today. Needles to say, I was pleased and honored. After opening it, I was and am, needless to say, also disappointed. The card was not a Christmas card; it was a holiday card."

A confounded Nofziger continued: "Inside there was no mention of Christmas. Instead, it says, 'With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness in 2005.'

"What a shame," Nofziger mused, "that, apparently for political reasons, a president who professes to be a strong Christian turns his back on the celebration of his Savior's birth because he doesn't wish to offend anyone -- except maybe his fellow Christians."

Right up to the end, when Lyn was dying of the very disease that had consumed his 38-year-old daughter, he was willing, despite his condition, to tell me the story of that revolution and how it has been derailed. Lyn Nofziger, the professional spokesman, right to the very end.

NOFZIGER CAME TO REAGAN as so many have, by circumstance and happenstance, but like many who followed one of our nation's greatest leaders, he was not just a conservative, he was a "Reagan conservative."

As a national political reporter for Copley News Service in the 1960s, Nofziger was even then a rare commodity: a Republican reporter. When owner Jim Copley approached and finally convinced Nofziger after failed attempts to get him on board the Reagan mule train, Nofziger thought the former actor turned political activist would lose California's Republican gubernatorial primary in 1966 and be done with it: he was wrong. Reagan went on to win the nomination and then the governorship. Whether Nofziger knew it or not then, he was going to become a Reaganite for life and be a critical part of one of the most successful political careers in American politics.

Nofziger stayed with Reagan, through the "Kitchen Cabinet" days, through the Citizens for the Republic days, through the landslide presidential victory in 1980 and the resulting administration. Nofziger, unlike so many Republicans of late, stayed with Reagan beyond his death in 2004 by staying true to the conservative principles that made both Reagan and America great in the 1980s.

Reagan's affection for Lyn Nofziger might best be found in his use of the name "Lynwood" for him. Nofziger told interviewers Stephen Knott and Russell Riley in their brilliant 2003 interview for the Miller Center for Public Affairs -- which I highly recommend Reaganites and Lynites read -- it was just something Reagan did:

"You've mentioned the fact that he always called you Lynwood. What was that? Did you ever attempt to straighten him out on that front?" asked Knott and Riley.

Nofziger replied: "No, he called me Lynwood. He did it time after time after time. My name is Franklyn, which I hate, and I've never gone by it. I know that when someone calls me Franklin, that they don't know me. I don't know. I guess it was kind of a term of affection."

Nofziger also spoke to the notion that there was a "veil" that surrounded Ronald Reagan:

"There was, I always felt -- less as I got used to it -- but I always felt that no matter how cordial he was, how congenial he was, and how well you got along, there was always something there between him and you. I couldn't put a finger on it, but you just never felt that you got really next to him. I would talk to other people who felt the same way, and Nancy never said this to me, but I'm told Nancy said the same thing."

Many accounts of Nancy Reagan's -- some even attributed, perhaps falsely, to Nofziger -- overbearing protectiveness of her husband portray a woman who viewed people around Reagan as either helping or hurting him. But it was an often misunderstood Nancy Reagan who afforded Nofziger what was perhaps his best moment before the press, when she passed along to him Reagan's quip after the Hinckley shooting, "Honey, I forgot to duck." Nofziger's conveyance of that anecdote to the media helped bring humor and hope to a shocked American public: it was why he was perhaps the finest spokesman a political figure could ever want to have.

ALSO TO BE FOUND AMONG Lyn Nofziger's "Musings" was something that related to another one of my greatest admirations for Lyn: his common sense sensibility, even if it was contraire to the current conventional conservatism. As I mentioned, Lyn's daughter died a painful death from cancer, one in which she found little relief from mainstream medicine's traditional medication. In a Washington Post in the late 1990s, Nofziger wrote about something that did work:

When our daughter was undergoing chemotherapy for lymph cancer, she was sick and vomiting constantly as a result of her treatments. No legal drugs, including Marinol, helped her.

We finally turned to marijuana. With it, she kept her food down, was comfortable and even gained weight. Those who say Marinol and other drugs are satisfactory substitutes for marijuana may be right in some cases but certainly not in all cases. If doctors can prescribe morphine and other addictive medicines, it makes no sense to deny marijuana to sick and dying patients when it can be provided on a carefully controlled, prescription basis.

Nofziger, who valiantly agreed to participate in a 2002 Capitol Hill news conference in support of Congressman Barney Frank's "State's Rights to Medical Marijuana Act" legislation, took to task a "compassionate conservative" Bush over the issue:

"Next week I will participate in a news conference that calls for an end to federal persecution of persons using or supplying marijuana for medicinal purposes in states where law permits it."

Addressing the president, who as a candidate, seemingly supported states' rights when it came to medical marijuana, Nofziger wrote:

"It seems to me that the very definition of compassionate conservatism should convince President Bush to support legislation that would allow states to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In fact, if the president understands the meaning of those two words ('compassionate conservative') not to support Frank is to reject the philosophy for which he says he stands and on which he ran for president."

Lyn Nofziger: a conservative, a true conservative, a Reagan conservative to the very end.

Lyn was a stand up guy in a town full of men who sit down when they urinate: he will be sorely missed.

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About the Author

Nicholas Thimmesch II is a longtime Washington-based media consultant who served in the Reagan White House.