Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, the glamorous former actress who received praise and criticism for her time in the White House during the 1980s, died in Bel-Air, California on Sunday of congestive heart failure.
The young Nancy Reagan (who was born Anne Francis Robbins in New York City on 6 July 1921) worked in several films under the name Nancy Davis before she met the man she would marry. She met Ronald Reagan in 1949, as it turned out, because of political pressure: another woman with the name Nancy Davis had spoken out in support of actors blacklisted during Hollywood’s Red Scare, which could have meant the end of her career.
At the time, Reagan was president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, and she thought by meeting with him, she might be able to enlist his help. Instead, she ended up marrying him in 1952, supporting his decisions as he took various television and screen jobs, started giving political speeches, and ultimately — in 1964 — becoming a political star when he gave a nationally televised speech for Barry Goldwater. The next year, a group of wealthy donors asked him to run for governor. He accepted and won handily, launching him into a political career that took the two to the White House in 1981.
From the first, Nancy Reagan was part of the campaign planning process. In public, relegated herself to life as a presidential wife who was happy to give up a budding acting career in order to support her husband. Behind the scenes, though, she was a mover and shaker, always conscious of their reach and image. She made hiring and firing recommendations (and received a roasting in the press for hiring a White House astrologer after an assassination attempt) and supported her husband throughout his career and into his final years with Alzheimer’s, until he died in 2004.
Reagan was 94. She will be buried next to her husband at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.