Former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan dies at 94

LOS ANGELES -- Nancy Reagan, the helpmate, backstage adviser and fierce protector of Ronald Reagan in his journey from actor to president -- and finally during his 10-year battle with Alzheimer's disease -- has died.

See Full Article

She was 94.

The former first lady died Sunday at her home in Bel-Air, California, of congestive heart failure, assistant Allison Borio told The Associated Press.

Her best-known project as first lady was the "Just Say No" campaign to help kids and teens stay off drugs.

When she swept into the White House in 1981, the former Hollywood actress partial to designer gowns and pricey china was widely dismissed as a pre-feminist throwback, concerned only with fashion, decorating and entertaining. By the time she moved out eight years later, Mrs. Reagan was fending off accusations that she was a behind-the-scenes "dragon lady" wielding unchecked power over the Reagan administration -- and doing it based on astrology to boot.

All along she maintained that her only mission was to back her "Ronnie" and strengthen his presidency.

Mrs. Reagan carried that charge through the rest of her days. She served as a full-time caretaker as Alzheimer's melted away her husband's memory. After his death in June 2004 she dedicated herself to tending his legacy, especially at his presidential library in California, where he had served as governor.

She also championed Alzheimer's patients, raising millions of dollars for research and breaking with fellow conservative Republicans to advocate for stem cell studies. Her dignity and perseverance in these post-White House roles helped smooth over the public's fickle perceptions of the former first lady.

The Reagans' mutual devotion over 52 years of marriage was legendary. They were forever holding hands. She watched his political speeches with a look of such steady adoration it was dubbed "the gaze." He called her "Mommy," and penned a lifetime of gushing love notes. She saved these letters, published them as a book, and found them a comfort when he could no longer remember her.

In announcing his Alzheimer's diagnosis in 1994, Reagan wrote, "I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience." Ten years later, as his body lay in state in the U.S. Capitol, Mrs. Reagan caressed and gently kissed the flag-draped casket.

As the newly arrived first lady, Mrs. Reagan raised more than $800,000 from private donors to redo the White House family quarters and to buy a $200,000 set of china bordered in red, her signature colour. She was criticized for financing these pet projects with donations from millionaires who might seek influence with the government, and for accepting gifts and loans of dresses worth thousands of dollars from top designers. Her lavish lifestyle -- in the midst of a recession and with her husband's administration cutting spending on the needy -- inspired the mocking moniker "Queen Nancy."

But her admirers credited Mrs. Reagan with restoring grace and elegance to the White House after the austerity of the Carter years.

Her substantial influence within the White House came to light slowly in her husband's second term.

Although a feud between the first lady and chief of staff Donald Regan had spilled into the open, the president dismissed reports that it was his wife who got Regan fired. "The idea that she is involved in governmental decisions and so forth and all of this, and being a kind of dragon lady -- there is nothing to that," a visibly angry Reagan assured reporters.

But Mrs. Reagan herself and other insiders later confirmed her role in rounding up support for Regan's ouster and persuading the president that it had to be done, because of the Iran-Contra scandal that broke under Regan's watch.

She delved into policy issues, too. She urged Reagan to finally break his long silence on the AIDS crisis. She nudged him to publicly accept responsibility for the arms-for-hostages scandal. And she worked to buttress those advisers urging him to thaw U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, over the objections of the administration's "evil empire" hawks.

Near the end of Reagan's presidency, ex-chief of staff Regan took his revenge with a memoir revealing that the first lady routinely consulted a San Francisco astrologer to guide the president's schedule. Mrs. Reagan, who had a longtime interest in horoscopes, maintained that she used the astrologer's forecasts only in hopes of predicting the safest times for her husband to venture out of the White House after an assassination attempt by John Hinckley just three months into Reagan's presidency.

Anne Frances Robbins, nicknamed Nancy, was born on July 6, 1921, in New York City. Her parents separated soon after she was born and her mother, film and stage actress Edith Luckett, went on the road. Nancy was reared by an aunt until 1929, when her mother married Dr. Loyal Davis, a wealthy Chicago neurosurgeon who gave Nancy his name and a socialite's home. She majored in drama at Smith College and found stage work with the help of her mother's connections.

In 1949, MGM signed 5-foot-4, doe-eyed brunette Nancy Davis to a movie contract. She was cast mostly as a loyal housewife and mother. She had a key role in "The Next Voice You Hear ...," an unusual drama about a family that hears God's voice on the radio. In "Donovan's Brain," she played the wife of a scientist possessed by disembodied grey matter.

She met Ronald Reagan in 1950, when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild and she was seeking help with a problem: Her name had been wrongly included on a published list of suspected communist sympathizers. They discussed it over dinner, and she later wrote that she realized on that first blind date "he was everything that I wanted."

They wed two years later, on March 4, 1952. Daughter Patti was born in October of that year and son Ron followed in 1958. Reagan already had a daughter, Maureen, and an adopted son, Michael, from his marriage to actress Jane Wyman. (Later, public spats and breaches with her grown children would become a frequent source of embarrassment for Mrs. Reagan.)

She was thrust into the political life when her husband ran for California governor in 1966 and won. She found it a surprisingly rough business.

"The movies were custard compared to politics," Mrs. Reagan said.

This report includes biographical material written by former AP staffers Jeff Wilson and Connie Cass.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Filipino troops kill notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnapper in clash

    World News CTV News
    MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine military chief says marines have killed an Abu Sayyaf extremist commander considered to be one of the most notorious kidnappers in the country's south. Military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano tells The Associated Press that Alhabsy Misaya was slain in a clash with marines late Friday in the jungles between the towns of Indanan and Parang in Sulu province. Source
  • Some U.S. lawmakers want parents charged in genital cutting cases

    World News CTV News
    ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Lawmakers in Minnesota and Texas are pushing to crack down on parents involved with genital cutting after an indictment against a Detroit-area doctor accused of performing the procedure on two young Minnesota girls highlighted the little-known practice. Source
  • Three men sentenced for stealing $18 million worth of maple syrup in Quebec

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    MONTREAL - Three men convicted in connection with the theft of $18 million worth of maple syrup in Quebec were sentenced on Friday to between two and eight years. Superior Court Justice Raymond Pronovost sentenced Richard Vallieres to eight years in prison, confiscated $606,500 from him and fined him another $9.4 million. Source
  • Donald Trump to NRA: 'Eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end' [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    ATLANTA - President Donald Trump reaffirmed his support for gun rights Friday, telling attendees of a National Rifle Association convention that “the eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.” Trump, the first sitting president to address the group’s annual convention in more than 30 years, assured the audience that he would defend their right to bear arms in a campaign-like speech reminiscent of his election rallies. Source
  • Friends hail slain 86-year-old Calif. woman as hero for allegedly defending friend

    World News CTV News
    NORTH HIGHLANDS, Calif. -- A young man was identified Friday as the suspect in the sexual assault and beating death of an 86-year-old California woman. She was remembered as a hero by investigators and neighbours after she used a walking stick to try to stop the alleged assailant from attacking her friend. Source
  • Conviction, 5-year sentence upheld for cop who faked crash reports

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- A veteran police officer who prepared bogus accident reports in exchange for cash lost his bid on Friday to overturn his conviction and five-year prison term. In upholding the guilty finding, the Court of Appeal for Ontario rejected arguments from Peel Regional Police Const. Source
  • Major earthquake hits south of Philippines, no injuries reported

    World News CTV News
    MANILA, Philippines - Philippine officials say a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 has struck off a southern province and prompted a local tsunami warning, but there are no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Source
  • Videos reportedly show gruesome abuse of young boy who was fed to pigs

    World News Toronto Sun
    KANSAS CITY, MO. - Videos and photos from a home in Kansas where a 7-year-old boy’s remains were found in a pigsty show the boy suffered horrific abuse in the months before he died, the child’s maternal grandmother said. Source
  • Fentanyl suspected in 2 deaths in Newfoundland

    Canada News CTV News
    The drug fentanyl is suspected of killing two people and causing 14 other overdoses in Newfoundland and Labrador. The local health authority issued a warning Thursday, saying the drug is suspected of causing 15 overdoses, including one death. Source
  • Men sentenced up to 8 years for Quebec maple syrup heist

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Three men convicted in connection with the theft of $18 million worth of maple syrup in Quebec were sentenced on Friday to between two and eight years. Superior Court Justice Raymond Pronovost sentenced Richard Vallieres to eight years in prison, confiscated $606,500 from him and fined him another $9.4 million. Source