Nancy Reagan, former First Lady, has died at 94, according to the Washington Post. The woman perhaps best known for the “Just Say No” campaign of the 1980s died today at her Los Angeles home of congestive heart failure.
No doubt, Nancy Reagan is perhaps best known for her legendary devotion to her late husband, former President Ronald Reagan, who passed away in June, 2004, of complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. Nancy Reagan was a former film actress who became the epitome of loyalty through the face of adversity through the Reagan administration, in addition to the years she took care of her ailing husband.
“Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan,” said Michael K. Deaver, a longtime aide and close friend of the Reagans, who died in 2007, according to the New York Times.
Reuters reported that Ronald Reagan affectionately called Nancy “Mommy” while she called him “Ronnie,” and the two had a famously close relationship. It was Nancy Reagan’s famously close relationship with her husband — and her fierce protection of him — that earned her both praise and detraction.
“She defined her role as being a shield for the emotional and physical well-being of the president,” said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, National First Ladies Library historian, according to the Washington Post. “I believe she would see her legacy as having helped forge her husband’s legacy.”
While Nancy Reagan was a significant influence in her husband’s presidency, she did not seek any sort of credit for the success. She did, however, blame White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan for ineptness after learning that her husband had secretly approved the sale of arms to Iran in the 1980s, according to New York Times.
Nancy Reagan sometimes was angry about her husband’s sunny disposition, arguing that she has had to be the one to tell her husband to stop being so nice at times. She has also earned a place of honor among some of the most influential First Ladies in history, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Edith, and, of course, current presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
In the early part of the 21st century, Nancy Reagan became a familiar, if diminutive, figure when it came to the care of her husband, and one of the most iconic images of that time period is the stoic image she conveyed during the weeklong celebration of life and funeral for Ronald Reagan in June, 2004.
She was a staunch protector of her husband, and during Ronald Reagan’s declining years, spoke out in support of more research funding into the use of stem cells to cure disease like Alzheimer’s, noting that “Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him.”
Nancy Reagan also had praise for President Barack Obama when, early in his presidency, he lifted restrictions on stem cell research. “Time is short, and life is precious,” she said.
Nancy Reagan did have her detractors, though, largely due to her expensive tastes in wardrobe. When she was encouraged by advisors to follow her husband’s lead and use humor to defuse the situation, she did so with stellar results. At the Gridiron Dinner in 1982, she appeared onstage as “Second Hand Rose,” wearing a feathered hat, pantaloons, and yellow boots and singing a parody of “Second Hand Clothes.”
In spite of the detractors, though, Nancy Reagan was always praised for her devotion for her husband, Ronald Reagan. In the book, I Love You, Ronnie, Nancy Reagan said, according to the Huffington Post, “We’ve had an extraordinary life… but the other side of the coin is that it makes it harder. There are so many memories that I can no longer share, which makes it very difficult. When it comes right down to it, you’re in it alone. Each day is different, and you get up, put one foot in front of the other, and go — and love; just love.”
[Photo by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library/Getty Images]