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Nancy Reagan’s Love Story Remembered Alongside Her Advocacy on Capitol Hill

Nancy Reagan touches the coffin of former President Ronald Reagan as a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda neared its end, following the former president's death in 2004. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Pool Photo)
Nancy Reagan touches the coffin of former President Ronald Reagan as a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda neared its end, following the former president's death in 2004. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Pool Photo)

Nancy Reagan’s death Sunday led Washington to reminisce about a classic love story between herself and President Ronald Reagan, as well as about the fierce advocacy for the causes she championed inside and outside the White House.  

The former first lady, who died from congestive heart failure at 94 on Sunday in Los Angeles, according to her spokeswoman, was remembered by leaders on both sides of the aisle for the way she cared for the former president as the two battled through his Alzheimer’s, as well as her efforts to find a cure, even when that put her at odds with social conservatives over stem-cell research.  

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch perhaps summed it up best in calling her, “President Reagan’s rock during the good times and the bad.”  

“A passionate advocate, she fought heroically for the causes in which she believed, from keeping our kids drug-free to finding cures for the disease that took her beloved husband from her. Above all, she was a dear friend, and I will miss her greatly,” the Utah Republican said in a statement.  

Hatch was among the leaders on the Republican side of a 2004 campaign to encourage the administration of George W. Bush to allow more federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, with Nancy Reagan’s backing.  

“In 2001, Mrs. Reagan courageously spoke out in support of stem-cell research, channeling her family’s private struggle into public advocacy on behalf of the millions of Americans fighting this disease,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday.  

Nancy Reagan was well-known during her husband’s administration and thereafter for efforts to combat substance abuse and for the “Just Say No” campaign that was designed to prevent children from using drugs.  

After leaving the White House, the Nancy Reagan Foundation continued work on these issues, and she became a key figure in the operations of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. That’s where she will be buried beside her husband.  

President and Mrs. Obama said in a joint statement that Mrs. Reagan had provided counsel to the Obamas as they prepared to move from Chicago to the White House.  

“Our former first lady redefined the role in her time here,” the Obamas said. “Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.”  

Potential next occupants of the White House — including fellow former first lady Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton — also offered their condolences to the Reagan family.  

The Clintons highlighted another of Reagan’s priorities, a foster grandparent program to bring senior citizens and less fortunate youth together, a project that the Reagan Foundation said had been of interest to Nancy Reagan since her time as California’s first lady.  

“Nancy Reagan will be remembered for her deep passion for this nation and love for her husband, Ronald. The Reagan family is in our prayers,” Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz said. The Texas Republican has often pointed to President Reagan’s campaign efforts to build a large conservative coalition in describing his own run for the White House.  

Nancy Reagan had personal connections to a number of lawmakers currently in office. In addition Hatch, Sen. Lamar Alexander said that Mrs. Reagan had visited the governor’s mansion in Tennessee when he held that office.  

Even younger lawmakers have impressions of the former first lady. Current Sen. Steve Daines, for instance, met Reagan while he was in his early twenties.  

“I remember meeting Nancy Reagan at the ’84 GOP National Convention – her advocacy on behalf of our country will never be forgotten,” the Montana Republican said on Twitter.  

Born Nancy Davis in New York City in 1921, she grew up to have a career in show business, signing with Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1949, according to an official biography. She and Ronald Reagan would meet in the world of Hollywood, marrying March 4, 1952. She continued as an actress for a time after their marriage, but then transitioned to the role of political spouse and trusted adviser to her husband, with his assuming the office of California governor in 1967.  

“One of her lasting legacies — one that truly touched hearts across the globe — is the unwavering love, humility, and compassion she demonstrated caring for her husband during his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The tremendous level of love and devotion Nancy and Ronald Reagan shared for one another is what every couple in America aims to someday achieve,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said. “They were truly a remarkable couple, and together they helped renew a great sense of optimism and hope in America during a time when it was most desperately needed.”  

Perhaps that love and devotion to one another, clear throughout their lives together, was never more than than in a moment recalled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in his statement.  

“I know every American felt Nancy’s immense pain when she, kissing Ronnie’s casket, mouthed a tearful farewell to the best friend she once said she couldn’t imagine life without,” McConnell said.


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