Tributes have been pouring in from those within the realm of US politics as news has emerged that Nancy Reagan, the former First Lady of the United States, passed away from congestive heart failure today in California at the age of 94. She was married to former president Ronald Reagan for 52 years, and reached peak prominence during the 1980s. During that time, she was regarded by many to have redefined what it means to be a First Lady. Her husband died back in 2004 at the age of 93.
Nancy Reagan, Former First Lady, Dies at 94
“Mrs. Reagan will be buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, next to her husband,” read a statement that came from a spokesperson for the Reagan Library, who released the news earlier today.
Nancy Reagan was born in New York City. When she was six, her mother, a stage actress, married a neurosurgeon. The doctor adopted Nancy and she grew up in Chicago. She later attended Smith College in Massachusetts, where she majored in theatre.
Nancy Davis, as she was then known, made 11 films from 1949 until 1956, but her career almost ended prematurely due to the McCarthyist fear of communism in the industry in Hollywood at the time. Her name appeared on a list of people thought to have been Communist sympathizers in 1949. She scheduled a meeting with Ronald Reagan who was at that time also an actor and the president of the Screen Actors Guild, according to her bio on the White House site.
When Ronald became the president of the United States, Reagan became best known for her “Just Say No” program, which strove to dissuade youth from trying illegal narcotics. She was also known as a fierce protector and defender of her husband, both politically and socially. After she and her husband left Washington, she continued her role as his defender and caretaker, as he struggled with Alzheimer’s disease until his death in 2004. After his death, she continued to publicly protect his image and legacy.
When Ronald was elected to the White House, Nancy brought a sense of style and elegance to Washington that many loved and were excited by. She was perceived as having tried to emulate the style of one of her predecessors, Jackie Kennedy. Conversely, she was criticized for wearing expensive designer dresses and ordering expensive new furnishings for White House state dinners, regardless of the fact that those things were purchased with private funds. Still, this lavish spending provoked a large-scale outrage from people who were angered by what they saw as carelessness and waste, while millions of Americans were losing their jobs.
Her public reputation came under further attack at times, as accusations mounted that she had a cold personality, frequently sought the advice of astrologers, and ordered the dismissal of White House chief of staff Donald Regan in 1987.
Michelle and Barack Obama paid their respects to her on social media today, saying that she prepared them for what it meant to be a couple in America’s strongest spotlight. Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney tweeted that with the passing of Reagan, both God and Ronald have welcomed a soul back home. Barbara Bush, Mrs. Reagan’s successor as First Lady, said she was totally devoted to President Reagan. Ex-President Bill Clinton, who issued a statement along with Hillary Clinton, described Mrs. Reagan’s strength of character as “legendary, particularly when tested by the attempted assassination of the President.”
The current crop of Republican presidential candidates also didn’t fail to offer their condolences. Donald Trump called Mrs. Reagan “the wife of a truly great President and an amazing woman,” while Ted Cruz said she will be “remembered for her deep passion for this nation and love for her husband.” John Kasich described the Reagans’ marriage as “one of our nation’s great love stories,” while Marco Rubio called the former first lady “a true example of integrity and grace.”
Reagan was the third First Lady to die in the 2000s and succeeds Betty Ford as the most recent First Lady death. The title of eldest First Lady has been passed to Barbara Bush, who is 90.