News & Politics

Nancy Reagan Dies

Former first lady Nancy Reagan speaks in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Wednesday, June 3, 2009, during a ceremony to unveil the Ronald Reagan statue. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Nancy Reagan, wife of President Ronald Reagan, has died at the age of 94.

Obituaries will talk about the controversies created during her White House years, but what most of us who lived during those times will recall was her total, unwavering devotion to the president. It was obvious in her face, in her mannerisms, in the way they interacted that she loved “Ronnie,” as she called him, unconditionally.

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Following her husband’s election to the presidency in 1980, Reagan launched a project fighting drug and alcohol abuse among young people and “Just Say No” became its byword.

She also was known as a fierce protector of her husband, especially after the 1981 attempt on his life. To this end, she even consulted an astrologer about his schedule – a fact later revealed to some uproar by former chief of staff Donald Regan in his memoir.

From 1981-89, Nancy Reagan was annually voted one of the world’s ten most admired women in a Gallup poll and three times, she came in at number one.

In 1987, the then 66-year-old first lady was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing successful surgery, she raised awareness of the disease among many women and in her later memoir “My Turn,” she stressed the importance of annual mammograms.

Following Reagan’s retirement after two terms as president, the couple left Washington for California, where in 1994, the president announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She spent most of her time caring for him until his death on June 5, 2004.

As a widow, Reagan remained active within the Reagan Library and became an advocate for stem cell research.

As she grew increasingly older and frail in appearance, she only rarely made public appearances.

She was portrayed in the liberal press as a rich, haughty woman out of touch with ordinary people. Her enemies constantly derided her for the way she dressed, the way she talked. Even her devotion to her husband was mocked.

Something as uplifting as the “Just Say No” campaign was ridiculed as being unrealistic. Trying to instill a sense of personal responsibility for their own lives in kids was apparently beyond the pale. The result of her failure is the state of our college youth today who wouldn’t know personal responsibility if it sat on their heads.

Nancy Reagan was a canny political operator in her own right. She was known as a gatekeeper, being able to discern motives and agendas from staff better than the president. Anyone working in the White House who underestimated her paid for it. Just ask Donald Regan.

A woman of many talents, she gave everything up to serve the ambitions of her husband. Many modern women would be uncomfortable with that arrangement. But it suited Mrs. Regan to a “T” and I’m sure she wouldn’t have had it any other way.