Friday 22 September 2017

Former US First Lady Nancy Reagan dies aged 94

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan speaks at the end of the
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan speaks at the end of the "A Nation Honors Nancy Reagan", dinner at the Ronald Reagan Building May 11, 2005 in Washington, DC. The event was held to pay tribute to Reagan and celebrate her life and her accomplishments. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Former first lady Nancy Reagan speaks during a birthday celebration held in honor of Ronald Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library February 6, 2011 in Simi Valley, California. Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, would have been 100 years old Sunday. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
Nancy Reagan at The Grand Opening Of D23's Treasures Of The Walt Disney Archives At The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum held at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on July 5, 2012 in Simi Valley, California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images)
Former first lady Nancy Reagan and President Barack Obama arrive for a bill signing in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House June 2, 2009 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama signed the "Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act" which is intended to honor the former US President Ronald Reagan on his 100th birthday in 2011. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Nancy and Ronald Reagan during their Irish visit in 1984
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Former US First Lady Nancy Reagan has died at the age of 94.

She passed away near her Bel Air, California home from congestive heart failure and suffered bad health in recent years.

She married former US President Ronald Reagan in 1952 and served as First Lady from 1981 to 1989 and will be remembered for her 'Just Say No' anti-drugs campaign.

She will be buried next to her husband of 52 years at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, a family statement confirmed.

Nancy Reagan at The Grand Opening Of D23's Treasures Of The Walt Disney Archives At The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum held at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on July 5, 2012 in Simi Valley, California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images)
Nancy Reagan at The Grand Opening Of D23's Treasures Of The Walt Disney Archives At The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum held at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on July 5, 2012 in Simi Valley, California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images)

Her stepson Michael paid tribute to Nancy on Twitter, saying: "I am saddened by the passing of my step mother Nancy Reagan...She is once again with the man she loved.God Bless... ..."

She visited Ireland with her husband President Ronald Reagan to Ireland in 1984.

Ahead of their visit genealogists uncovered Mr Reagan's family roots in Co Tipperary.

The late President's great-grandfather Michael Regan (the spelling of the surname was changed later) was baptised in Ballyporeen in 1829.

Nancy and Ronald Reagan during their Irish visit in 1984
Nancy and Ronald Reagan during their Irish visit in 1984

He went on to take the emigration trail in search of success, quitting the area in the middle of the 19th century, heading firstly to London and later to the United States.

The scion of the Tipperary Regan's made his name as an actor in Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s, before becoming a spokesman for major US corporations in the 1960s, and deepening his links to the Republican Party.

The established presidential link was enough to generate a huge wave of enthusiasm in that part of Co Tipperary and beyond.

The name of the local family-run pub was soon changed to the Ronald Reagan Lounge, samples of the local soil were put on sale and a special visit to the area by the distinguished politician was laid on.

Read More: Huge security operation for Ronald Reagan’s visit

Born in New York City, Nancy Reagan embarked on a career as an actress in the 1940s and appeared on Broadway in 1946 musical Lute Song, alongside Mary Martin and a young Yul Brynner.

She relocated to California, where she signed a deal with MGM Studios and went on to score roles in films like The Doctor and the Girl, Shadow on the Wall, and Night Into Morning.

Nancy famously enjoyed romances with actors including Clark Gable, Robert Stack and Peter Lawford, before meeting Ronald in 1949, when he served as president of the Screen Actors Guild.

They wed on 4 March, 1952, when fellow actors William Holden and Brenda Marshall served as best man and matron of honour, respectively.

Nancy's other film credits included Donovan's Brain and Hellcats of the Navy, while she also appeared on TV in episodes of The Tall Man and Wagon Train.

She retired from the screen in 1962 to focus on raising the couple's two children, actress/author Patti Davis and radio host Ron Reagan, and became First Lady of California when Ronald was elected Governor in 1967.

They later moved into the White House in 1981, when Ronald became the 40th President of the United States.

She rushed to his side after he was shot in 1981 by a would-be assassin.

In her role as First Lady, Nancy became a leading force in the fight against substance abuse, founding the Just Say No drug awareness campaign to help children and teenagers stay off drugs. She continued her charity work into old age, most notably working to support embryonic stem cell research.

After leaving the White House in 1989, the couple retired to their estate in Bel Air, Los Angeles, where Nancy subsequently spent her time caring for Ronald, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994. He died in 2004, aged 93.

In recent years she broke with fellow Republicans in backing stem cell research as a way to possibly find a cure for Alzheimer's.

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, she 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.

The Reagans' mutual devotion over 52 years of marriage was obvious. 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 US Capitol, his widow caressed and gently kissed the flag-draped casket.

As the newly arrived first lady, Mrs Reagan raised more than 800,000 dollars from private donors to redo the White House family quarters and to buy a 200,000-dollar set of china bordered in red, her signature colour.

She was criticised 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 nickname "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 ousting Mr Regan's and persuading the president that it had to be done, because of the Iran-Contra scandal that broke under Mr Regan's watch.

She delved into policy issues, too. She urged her husband 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 US relations with the Soviet Union, over the objections of the administration's "evil empire" hawks.

Near the end of Mr Reagan's presidency, ex-chief of staff Mr 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 his 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 studied drama at Smith College and found stage work with the help of her mother's connections.

In 1949, MGM signed 5ft 4in, 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 who hear 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 sympathisers. They discussed it over dinner, and she later wrote that she realised 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 that year and son Ron followed in 1958. Mr 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.

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