On her death Sunday at age 94, former first lady Nancy Reagan was remembered as quietly compassionate, fiercely protective of her husband and calm even in the most trying of times.
“Nobody loved anybody more strongly than Nancy Reagan loved Ronald Reagan (and) even though her own husband was in surgery, she went out of her way to console and comfort Sarah Brady,” recalled Frederick “Rick” Ahearn, a Chestnut Hill native and former advance man for President Ronald Reagan who was there when Reagan and White House Press Secretary James Brady were both shot and wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt.
“Even under times of stress, she showed terrific grace and concern for other people,” Ahearn told the Herald.
Nancy Reagan died of congestive heart failure Sunday at her Los Angeles home. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama said Reagan “redefined the role in her time here,” and praised her advocacy on Alzheimer’s disease. Ronald Reagan died in 2004 after a long struggle with the disease.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said, “We say a final goodbye to the days of Ronald Reagan. With charm, grace and a passion for America, this couple reminded us of the greatness and the endurance of the American ?experiment.”
She was born Anne Francis Robbins in New York City on July 6, 1921, to Edith Prescott Luckett, a stage ?actress, and Kenneth Seymour Robbins, a car salesman. A Smith College graduate, Nancy Davis — her last name taken from her adoptive father — turned to theater and then Holly-wood, making nearly a dozen movies and dating some of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors, including Clark Gable. But, as she said, her life “didn’t really begin until I met Ronnie.”
She had sought his help as president of the Screen Actors Guild to have her name cleared after it was mistakenly included on a list of Communist sympathizers. They would eventually become known as one of the great love stories of American politics — with Nancy also playing the role of her husband’s toughest adviser and defender. He in turn was passionately devoted to her.
“I more than love you,” Ronald Reagan wrote in a love letter to her after 31 years of marriage. “I’m not whole without you. You are life itself to me.”
Ahearn said he experienced Nancy Reagan’s compassion firsthand after his wife died in 2007.
“We shared a lot of tears,” Ahearn said. “She was trying to encourage me, and telling me what it was like for her to lose her husband.”
Former George W. Bush White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card of Holbrook, who served as Ronald Reagan’s director of intergovernmental affairs, said Nancy Reagan tactfully monitored how staff was serving her husband’s ?image.
“She was usually very measured and insightful … she would speak quietly to you even if she was offering criticism,” Card said.
Ron Kaufman, a Quincy native who was a Republican National Committee official in the Reagan years, recalled a White House Christmas party, nearly canceled due to snow, where the Reagans simply told stories in lieu of conducting receiving lines.
“Ronald Reagan, of course, was the ultimate storyteller,” Kaufman said, “and Mrs. Reagan corrected him several times, as only a first lady could do to a president. It was the most charming, intimate, wonderful experience.”
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