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

  • Armed school officer didn't confront Florida gunman, sheriff says

    World News CBC News
    The armed officer on duty at the Florida school where a shooter killed 17 people never went inside to engage the gunman and has been placed under investigation, officials announced Thursday. The Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a gunman armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle has reignited national debate over gun laws and school safety, including proposals by U.S. Source
  • School officer never went inside to confront gunman, Florida sheriff says

    World News CTV News
    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The armed officer on duty at the Florida school where a shooter killed 17 people never went inside to engage the gunman and has been placed under investigation, officials announced Thursday. The Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a gunman armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle has reignited national debate over gun laws and school safety, including proposals by President Donald Trump and others to designate more people -- including trained…
  • 'You didn't win': Singer Susan Aglukark publicly names her abuser at MMIWG hearings

    Canada News CBC News
    Susan Aglukark ended the Rankin Inlet hearing for the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women by addressing the man she says sexually abused her when she was eight years old. "Norman Ford," she said on Thursday afternoon. Source
  • Jaspal Atwal, B.C. man at centre of media storm over Trudeau invite, likes posing with politicians

    Canada News CBC News
    For a man once convicted of trying to kill a politician, Jaspal Atwal seems to have had little trouble getting his picture taken with MPs, cabinet ministers and Liberal party leaders, including Justin Trudeau. Atwal — convicted in 1986 of the attempted assassination of an Indian state cabinet minister visiting Vancouver Island — is at the centre of an international media storm after posing for photos with Prime Minister Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and Infrastructure Minister…
  • Tina Fontaine's death and Raymond Cormier's trial: What the jury heard

    Canada News CTV News
    WINNIPEG -- Jurors sat through three weeks of evidence in the trial of Raymond Cormier, 56, who on Thursday was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the slaying of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. Tina's body, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down by rocks, was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg several days after she disappeared in August 2014. Source
  • B.C. seeks reference case over pipeline to affirm its rights over oil shipments

    Canada News CTV News
    VICTORIA -- The British Columbia government will ask the courts if it has the right to protect its environment by restricting diluted bitumen in the Trans Mountain pipeline. Premier John Horgan said Thursday his government is filing a constitutional reference case on the issue, which has been at the centre of a heated dispute between B.C. Source
  • Wine ban suspended: Truce called in trade war between B.C. and Alberta

    Canada News CTV News
    VICTORIA -- The Alberta government has accepted an olive branch from British Columbia and is suspending its ban on the province's wine in an ongoing dispute over the Trans Mountain pipeline. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley took the step after B.C. Source
  • Toddler who befriended Nova Scotia garbage men gets special birthday gift

    Canada News CTV News
    Every Wednesday, three-year-old Hiro Getson walks to the end of his driveway, sits down and waits for the garbage truck. Like many kids his age, the toddler from Eastern Passage, N.S. has developed a love of big trucks. Source
  • Raymond Cormier not guilty in death of Tina Fontaine, 15

    Canada News CBC News
    Read our live coverage belowA jury has found Raymond Cormier not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Tina Fontaine. After the verdict was delivered, people in the crowd burst into tears and gasps of disbelief were heard from members of the teen girl's family and supporters. Source
  • Hunters fined for shooting couple's pet pigs

    Canada News CBC News
    Two men who shot and killed a Navan couple's cherished pot-bellied pigs last November have been fined after pleading guilty Thursday. The pigs, named Pickles and Rosie, were companion animals to Matt Nooyen and Lianne Guilbeault, and even participated as members of the couple's wedding party last September. Source