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Former First Lady Nancy Reagan Dies at 94
Nancy Reagan, whose style and staunch support of her husband, former President Ronald Reagan, gained her admirers and detractors, died Sunday in her home in Los Angeles at the age of 94.
According to Mrs. Reagan’s spokeswoman, Joanne Drake, the former first lady died of congestive heart failure.
Born Anne Frances Robbins in 1921 in New York City, Mrs. Reagan was the daughter of Edith Luckett, an actress, and Kenneth Robbins, a car dealer who abandoned his family soon after Nancy was born, the New York Times reported. Luckett went on to marry an affluent Chicago neurosurgeon, Loyal Davis, who adopted her and gave her his family name.
The young Nancy Davis in the 1940s embarked on an acting career that saw her share the screen with the likes of Barbara Stanwyck and Ray Milland, the Times said. However, it was her relationship with one young actor — Ronald Reagan — which was to take her life in a different direction.
In her memoirs, Nancy Reagan said that after marrying the (then) actor in 1952, she was determined to be a stay-at-home wife, although she did continue with occasional work as an actress.
The couples’ lives took a major turn, however, in the mid 1960s, when Ronald Reagan became governor of California in a landslide victory.
He left that office in 1973, and with the help and influence of his wife began to set his sights on the Presidency, the Times said. Nancy helped guide her husband’s choices in terms of connections and staff, and was critical to his election as President in 1980, experts say.
“Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan,” the late Michael Deaver, longtime friend and adviser to the couple, once told the Times.
Nancy Reagan ran the two-term Reagan White House with a strict hand, and had her detractors and admirers. In 1981, a Gallup poll placed her at the top of “most admired women” in the nation.
But Nancy Reagan also survived tough times, most notably the attempted assassination of her husband in 1981, and breast cancer, with which she was diagnosed in 1987.
The disease caused her to undergo a mastectomy of the left breast, and she used her experience to urge all women to undergo annual mammography screening.
Mrs. Reagan was also vocal on the subject of drug and alcohol abuse by the young, and her famous “Just Say No” campaign helped fuel anti-addiction messages throughout the 1980s.
Finally, in 1994, the couple disclosed that Ronald Reagan had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Speaking to Newsweek, Mrs. Reagan described the following decade as a “long goodbye,” with “hours spent with old love letters and powerful advocacy for new research into cures for the disease that was taking Ronnie from her.”
Soon after her husband’s death in 2004, Nancy Reagan broke with then-President George W. Bush’s stance against embryonic stem cell research, believing it might give hope to families battling Alzheimer’s and other illnesses.
Nancy Reagan is survived by her two children with Ronald Reagan, Patti Davis and Ron Reagan, Jr.