Nancy Reagan+Ronald Reagan

By Lou Cannon
March 6, 2016

Nancy Reagan, the influential and stylish wife of the 40th president of the United States who unabashedly put Ronald Reagan at the center of her life but became a political figure in her own right, died on Sunday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 94.

The cause was congestive heart failure, according to a statement from Joanne Drake, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Reagan.

Mrs. Reagan was a fierce guardian of her husband’s image, sometimes at the expense of her own, and during Mr. Reagan’s improbable climb from a Hollywood acting career to the governorship of California and ultimately the White House, she was a trusted adviser.

“Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan,” said Michael K. Deaver, the longtime aide and close friend of the Reagans who died in 2007.

President Obama said on Sunday that Mrs. Reagan “had redefined the role” of first lady, adding, “Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.”

Mrs. Reagan helped hire and fire the political consultants who ran her husband’s near-miss campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976 and his successful campaign for the presidency in 1980.

She also played a seminal role in the 1987 ouster of the White House chief of staff, Donald T. Regan, whom Mrs. Reagan blamed for ineptness after it was disclosed that Mr. Reagan had secretly approved arms sales to Iran.

Behind the scenes, Mrs. Reagan was the prime mover in Mr. Reagan’s efforts to recover from the scandal, which was known as Iran-contra because some of the proceeds from the sale had been diverted to the contras opposing the leftist government of Nicaragua. While trying to persuade her stubborn husband to apologize for the arms deal, Mrs. Reagan brought political figures into the White House, among them the Democratic power broker Robert S. Strauss, to argue her case to the president.

Mr. Reagan eventually conceded that she was right. On March 4, 1987, the president made a distanced apology for the arms sale in a nationally televised address that dramatically improved his slumping public approval ratings.

His wife, typically, neither sought nor received credit for the turnaround. Mrs. Reagan did not wish to detract from her husband’s luster by appearing to be a power behind the presidential throne.

In public, she gazed at him adoringly and portrayed herself as a contented wife who had willingly given up a Hollywood acting career of her own to devote herself to her husband’s career. “He was all I had ever wanted in a man, and more,” she wrote in “My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan,” published in 1989.

He reciprocated in kind. “How do you describe coming into a warm room from out of the cold?” he once said. “Never waking up bored? The only thing wrong is, she’s made a coward out of me. Whenever she’s out of sight, I’m a worrier about her.”

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