Nancy Reagan is quoted as having once said, “My life began when I met my husband.” Throughout Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan’s time as President and First Lady, it became clear that the two constituted a collective that was as emotionally and spiritually powerful as it was politically moving. As former Secretary of State James A. Baker III remarked in response to the sad news on Sunday, March 6, The Reagans were “defined by their love for each other.”
In much the same way as Ronald Reagan himself, Nancy Reagan entered the political sphere through the somewhat unusual avenue of professional acting. Having majored in Theatre at Smith College in Massachusetts, Nancy Reagan entered the professional world with aspirations of acting in the theater, Broadway, and cinema, which she rather dutifully and swiftly brought to fruition. Some of Nancy Reagan’s earliest acting endeavors included roles in a touring road company, Broadway, and ultimately Hollywood, after which she performed in a total of 11 films from 1949 to 1956.
It so happened, of course, that Ronald Reagan had similar creative aspirations to Nancy, and the two met in 1951 while Ronald was serving as president of the Screen Actors Guild. Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married in the following year, and Nancy retired from making movies relatively soon afterward, preferring her roles as mother and wife to the roles she played on stage. Many would later note that it was around this time in Nancy and Ronald Reagan’s marriage that Nancy’s role as an impeccable spiritual and charitable leader began to take noticeable shape.
As President Barrack Obama observed, “Our former First Lady redefined the role in her time here. 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.”
Indeed, Nancy Reagan would ultimately redefine the role of First Lady as an office of political and spiritual leadership and as an office of serious engagement with the nation’s most pressing moral issues. Her contributions in that regard are occasionally traced all the way back to her charitable aspirations during Ronald Reagan’s time as Governor of California from 1967 to 1975.
During this time, Nancy Reagan’s benevolent and humanitarian spirit directed her to involve herself with numerous charitable organizations, and she dedicated much of her time to visiting with the elderly, veterans, and disabled individuals. Nancy’s enduring interest in fostering efforts in both charitable and moral cultivation of the nation clearly translated into her eventual role as First Lady from 1981 to 1989. During this time, she dedicated countless hours to attempting to answer serious moral issues plaguing the United States, such as childhood poverty and, perhaps most notably, drug and alcohol abuse. Nancy’s famous call for children to “just say no” to drugs and alcohol, of course, came to characterize much of the moral direction and spirit of the Reagan Administration, and Nancy Reagan’s campaign against drug abuse was an endeavor that she actively pursued until her death.
At the age of 94, Nancy Reagan passed away on Sunday, March 6, at her home in Los Angeles. Unsurprisingly, Nancy’s passing proved one of the more somber and politically unifying moments in an otherwise volatile and contentious political climate, with voices on all sides of the spectrum uniting in mourning and solemn contemplation.
“No matter your party or political ideology,” responded Bernie Sanders, “this is a sad day for America. Nancy Reagan was an exemplary first lady. A devoted partner, she was her husband’s most trusted adviser and, as such, served our country well.”
Former President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, said of Nancy Reagan, “Her strength of character was legendary, particularly when tested by the attempted assassination of the President, and throughout his battle with Alzheimer’s. She leaves a remarkable legacy of good that includes her tireless advocacy for Alzheimer’s research and the Foster Grandparent Program.”
Donald Trump also tweeted, “Nancy Reagan, the wife of a truly great President, was an amazing woman,” and Ted Cruz solemnly remarked, “Nancy Reagan will be remembered for her deep passion for this nation and love for her husband, Ronald.”
Ultimately, Nancy is well regarded both for her key roles in the creation of the Reagan Administration and for her own power as a determined, resolute, and indeed stubborn political icon, whose ardent, persistent, and staunch efforts towards the moral and political improvement of the nation are sure to be remembered.
“Her determination was ferocious,” observed Nancy Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis. “Even God might not have the guts to argue with Nancy Reagan.”
-Austin Wash ’16, Senior Politics/Opinions Editor