Saying Goodbye: Nancy Reagan is Dead

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Nancy Reagan has passed away at the age of 94.

The former First Lady, wife of President Ronald Reagan, passed away in Bel Air on Sunday after suffering congestive heart failure.

Starting as an actress in the 1940s and 1950s, she married Ronald Reagan – then president of the Screen Actors Guild – in 1952.

Mrs Reagan was an influential First Lady during her husband’s presidency from 1981 to 1989.

Notably she spearheaded the ‘Just Say No’ to campaign against drugs, speaking at schools and appearing on TV shows such as Dynasty and Diff’rent Strokes to promote the cause.

‘Drugs take away the dream from every child’s heart and replace it with a nightmare, and it’s time we in America stand up and replace those dreams,’ she said in a speech which led to 12,000 Just Say No clubs being set up across the country and a Just Say No Week implemented by Congress.

Her efforts are credited with driving cocaine use down to a 10-year low.

Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004, after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

In recent years, Nancy struggled with her health after falling at home and breaking three ribs in 2012, not long after breaking her pelvis at home in 2008.

Despite her own health setbacks, however, Mrs Reagan remained active in politics, particularly in relation to stem-cell research.

She also endorsed Mitt Romney for the presidency in 2012.

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On Sunday, President Obama, Bill Clinton, and George W Bush led tribes to the former First Lady.

Describing Mrs Reagan as an icon who defined the role of First Lady, the Obamas wrote: ‘Nancy Reagan once wrote that nothing could prepare you for living in the White House. She was right, of course. But we had a head start, because we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example, and her warm and generous advice.

‘Our former First Lady redefined the role in her time here. Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.

‘We offer our sincere condolences to their children, Patti, Ron, and Michael, and to their grandchildren. And we remain grateful for Nancy Reagan’s life, thankful for her guidance, and prayerful that she and her beloved husband are together again.’

Meanwhile, people remembering Mrs Reagan left a growing display of flowers at the main entrance gate of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.

The library is closed and visitors were turned away.

Sharon Hirtzer and her husband, Joe, were among the mourners outside the library Sunday. The Chicago couple were in California and had previously planned to visit the library before learning Mrs. Reagan’s death on Sunday.

‘I was just really said,’ Sharon Hirtzer said. ‘She was a great lady and had so much class.’

Hirtzer said Mrs Reagan brought glamour to the White House. Though Mrs Reagan was criticized for spending habits, Hirtzer said that never bothered her.

‘I was always impressed by the way she carried herself,’ Hirtzer said.

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Born in New York City in 1921, her birth certificate reads Anne Francis Robbins, but everyone called her Nancy from the start.

At the time her mother Edith Luckett, an actress on Broadway, and her father Kenneth Robbins, a car salesman, were married and living in New York.

But within months of Nancy’s birth, they divorced, her father disappeared, and her mother joined a traveling theater company.

As Edith traveled, Nancy lived with her aunt in Flushing, Queens, then Maryland until she was six years old.

In 1929, Edith married a neurosurgeon called Loyal Davis, who adopted Nancy and moved the family to Chicago.

Nancy went to college in Chicago then university in Massachusetts, majoring in English and Drama.

She then moved to New York to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become an actress, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Katherine Hepburn.

In March 1949, she signed a seven-year contract with MGM and relocated to Hollywood to star in movies such as The Next Voice You Hear, which received a glittering review in the New York Times.

In October 1949, she met Ronald Reagan.

The couple met during Nancy’s bid to clear her name after she was accused of being a Communist.

Her name appeared on a list of suspected ‘sympathizers’ published by the Hollywood Reporter.

Desperate to clarify that she was not a Communist, she arranged to meet with the then-president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Ronald Reagan, for dinner to discuss it.

According to her profile on the Reagan Library website, neither planned to have a late night but they got on so well they stayed at a night club for two shows after dinner.

From that moment on, they were dating but for a year they weren’t exclusive, since Reagan had recently divorced.

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They married in 1952 – and appeared in a movie together, Hellcats Of The Navy, in 1956.

Ten years later, Ronald Reagan ran for office and in 1967 he was sworn in as governor of California.

Nancy didn’t enjoy quiet life in Sacramento in their Victorian mansion, and at first commuted to and from Los Angeles.

However, she was applauded for her work, and was described by the Los Angeles Times as ‘a model First Lady’.

Naming her ‘woman of the year’, the Times described her as ‘informed, interest and beautifully turned out day after day’.

She used the role to champion causes, such as the ‘foster grandparents’ campaign, pairing lonely elderly people with children in need. The program is still in operation nationwide today.

As a couple, the Reagans were enlisted often by President Nixon to represent America around the world. They were dispatched to the opening of the Cultural Center in the Philippines in 1969, and to meet with officials in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan in 1971. In 1972, they were sent to Europe to meet with General Franco, Pope Paul VI, and the Queen of Denmark.

When Reagan’s second term came to an end, he did not seek reelection. Instead, he turned his sights to the White House, unsuccessfully challenging incumbent Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976.

Trying again in 1980, Ronald sought Nancy’s advice throughout, and she was rarely out of sight.

It was Nancy who fired their campaign manager after conceding the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, and even wrote the press release announcing the move. She then attended events daily, holding meetings and rallies to claw back his lead.

Martin Anderson, domestic policy adviser in Reagan’s 1980 campaign and his first term in the White House, wrote in his book, Revolution that Nancy ‘was an important and active participant in virtually all the important discussions that took place during the campaign.’

‘She was highly intelligent, with a sixth sense for asking insightful, penetrating questions,’ he added.

‘Above all, her judgments on public policy issues, political strategy, and personnel were superb … Reagan recognized a good mind when he encountered one, and he consulted her constantly on just about everything.

‘On the other hand, he would never hesitate to overrule her counsel, although he seldom did so because she was usually right.’

In the White House, she was equally influential. Nancy was key in helping her husband move out from behind the Iran-contra scandal, which began in 1985.

According to a biography, she persuaded Ronald to soften his stance on the USSR, recruiting White House staffers to convince the president that detente was the best course.

Her efforts culminated in her husband famously telling Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev to ‘Tear Down This Wall’ in Berlin in 1987.

She convinced him not to cut benefits so deeply to fund the Star Wars program, was against military intervention in Nicaragua and told him not to make a controversial trip to a German cemetery, author HW Brands writes in Reagan: The Life.

Reagan relied on his wife so much, Brands wrote, that he called her ‘mummy’. The nickname was not just because she was the mother of his two children, Brands explains. In love and devotion he also found ‘some of the security he had relied on from his mother in childhood’.

Political scientist Richard Neustadt in his book Presidential Power And The Modern Presidents: ‘The aide in charge of warning him (Reagan) when threats appeared against his public standing or historical appeal … that special staff role, of immense importance to someone habitually incurious about detail, had been assigned his wife.

‘More precisely, she had made it hers since Sacramento.

This article originally appeared on the Daily Mail.