Nancy Reagan was not just the wife of one of the greatest presidents in American history. She was Ronald Reagan’s soulmate, his protector, and often, his closest advisor. And in his twilight, as he declined due to the effects of Alzheimer’s, she was his caretaker, too.
Now, former First Lady Nancy Reagan is dead at the age of 94. She passed away on Sunday of congestive heart failure at her home in Los Angeles.
Ronald Reagan shared his innermost self with very few people. Mrs. Reagan had access to aspects of the president that no one else could fathom.
In her role as her “Ronnie’s” fiercest guardian, she was known particularly for her involvement in staff decisions, ever on the watch for people who might be putting their own interests first. She was reportedly deeply involved in the ouster of White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan in 1987 following the Iran-Contra crisis.
But Mrs. Reagan carved her own role in the Reagan presidency. Her “Just Say No” campaign against drug use became one of the great movements of the 1980s. In true conservative fashion, she sought to address a problem not through massive government intervention but by using her bully pulpit to effect cultural change.
The title of the cause, which became perhaps the decade’s most famous watchword, was chosen after she met with schoolchildren in Oakland, according to the Ronald Reagan Library. “A little girl raised her hand,” Nancy Reagan remembered, “and said, ’Mrs. Reagan, what do you do if somebody offers you drugs?’ And I said, ‘Well, you just say no.’ And there it was born. I think people thought we had an advertising agency over who dreamed that up — not true.”
The crusade took her to 65 cities in 33 states and 9 foreign countries. She made 110 appearances and 14 anti-drug speeches on behalf of the effort in 1984 alone.
Mrs. Reagan also was involved during her husband’s presidency in a program to create “foster grandparents” for needy children.
Nancy Reagan was born Anne Frances Robbins on July 6, 1921, in New York City. Her mother was an actress who eventually married a Chicago neurosurgeon, Loyal Davis, who adopted her. The then-Nancy Davis became an actress herself and met then-fellow actor Ronald Reagan in the late 1940s.
They were married March 4, 1952, in a small ceremony and had two children together. They remained together until the president’s death on June 5, 2004.
She will be buried next to her husband at the Reagan library in spot overlooking California’s Simi Valley.