Nancy Reagan, the former actress who was fiercely protective of husband Ronald Reagan through a Hollywood career, eight years in the White House, an assassination attempt and Alzheimer’s disease, died Sunday at age 94, the Reagan library said.
Reagan became one of the most influential first ladies in U.S. history during her Republican husband’s presidency from 1981 to 1989, Her husband, who affectionately called her “Mommy” while she called him “Ronnie,” died in 2004 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s, the progressive brain disorder that destroys memory.
As Nancy Davis, she was a Hollywood actress during the 1940s and 1950s and married Reagan, a prominent film actor, in 1952. She then served as first lady of California during her husband’s stint as California governor from 1967 to 1975 before moving into the White House after his decisive victory over incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Her most publicised project as first lady was the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign. After her husband developed Alzheimer’s disease, she became an advocate for discovering a cure.
She was diminutive and publicly soft spoken but Nancy Reagan’s strong will, high-tone tastes and clout with her husband made her a controversial figure during his presidency.
As Reagan’s wife, political partner and adviser, she became one of America’s most potent first ladies, alongside the likes of Franklin Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Edith, and Bill Clinton’s wife, Hillary.
“I see the first lady as another means to keep a president from becoming isolated,” she said in 1985. “I talk to people. They tell me things. And if something is about to become a problem, I’m not above calling a staff person and asking about it. I’m a woman who loves her husband and I make no apologies for looking out for his personal and political welfare.”
Tiny and frail in her later years, Reagan devoted her time to caring for her ailing husband at their home in Los Angeles’ exclusive Bel Air enclave. She was always a stickler for protocol and detail and stoically presided over the former president’s weeklong funeral and celebration of his life in June 2004.