Class beats out style every time. It’s perhaps one of the reasons Nancy Reagan quieted a room when she walked in it. Always elegant, Mrs. Reagan carried herself with grace, and because of it, she instantly commanded respect. She was a woman who took her role as America’s first lady seriously, though in a more old-fashioned way than others like Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter and even Betty Ford, all who took more vocal approaches to their roles than Mrs. Reagan ever did.
Reagan, 94, died Sunday.
While she wasn’t considered a political force in her own right, Reagan was, by no means, a shrinking flower, either. She was President Reagan’s closest confidant and staunchest supporter, and she took an active role in his business affairs, offering him advice on national matters and, on occasion, even telling him what to say when confronted by reporters.
In an Associated Press article on Regan, historian David Greenbert, the author of “Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency,” said “she never emerged as a political player in her own right, nor did she seek to, but on the other hand she didn’t confine herself to the domestic sphere. And by taking an active role in her husband’s business, she helped to reconcile conservatism to the reality of women’s changing roles. Her views may have been conservative, but her political involvement implied that it wasn’t improper for women to participate in what conservatives considered the man’s sphere.”
As the AP put it: Reagan wasn’t out to break the rules of being first lady, but she knew well how to work within them.
Perhaps her best known public issue was the “Just Say No” to drugs campaign she championed after a student questioned her about what to do if someone offered her drugs. That campaign led to drug-free school zones and zero tolerance policies in schools that continue today.
But her greatest desire was to help her husband, the man she always called the love of her life. And she did so with a strength few would have believed the diminutive first lady could exhibit. When it came to her “Ronnie,” there was nothing she wouldn’t do.
“Ronald Reagan was a striver, but his striving was masked by his courteous, amiable manner and enduring fatalism,” biographer Lou Cannon wrote in “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime.” ”Hers (Nancy’s) was out in the open, all cards on the table, for anyone to see. With a directness unusual either in Hollywood or Washington, Nancy Reagan favored anyone who helped her husband or advanced his career and opposed anyone who was in his way. She put people off, while he put them at their ease.”
True to her desire to always put President Reagan first, Mrs. Reagan broke with conservatives in her post-Washington years, advocating for embryonic stem cell research for Alzheimer’s, the disease which afflicted her husband, aligning herself with liberal Ted Kennedy in that support.
For Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan came first, her country second, and often the two together, allowing her to have the one-two punch needed to make her mark without having to overstep the role she believed the first lady should play in the public sphere.
She earned our respect as a first lady and she deserves our praise for staunchly supporting her husband, helping him to chart a successful course for our country. She served him and our country well, and she has earned her place in history.