I feel a great sense of loss at Nancy Reagan’s passing yesterday. I really do and I’m surprised at that. Maybe it’s my own aging, and maybe the aging of my own parents. I’m not sure. But, I will say that the world was a more interesting place with Nancy Reagan in it. Many observers recognize the former First Lady as possessing a “forceful, yet amiable manner,” according to the biographer, Lou Cannon.
I actually met then Governor of California, Ronald and Nancy Reagan at a local Modesto, California fundraising event.
Even then, as a young boy, I recall the “star quality,” of both of these people, and have been a long time admirer ever since.
Further points of intersection along the way came at University of California, Berkeley, where my parents attended (“Go Bears!”), and where Ronald Reagan launched his political career, with a stab at the student protests during the “Free Speech Movement,” as well as my own career when, as an intern for Rep. Bernie Sisk, (D, CA), I worked closely with outgoing Cong. Sisk, and his AA, later Cong. Tony Coelho, (D, CA), and former Democratic whip of the US House, during Pres. Reagan’s first term of office in 1980.
But, Pres. Reagan’s passing was not nearly as jolting to me, or sad, as Mrs Reagan’s on Sunday.
A romantic at heart, I always thought the love story between “Ronnie and Nancy,” beautiful, and I admired both, but thought Nancy the more human of the two. Watching the news footage of her life, I saw her gently kiss Ronnie’s casket, and saw the immense pain on her face, knowing, as did the nation at the time, she’d just lost her very best friend, imagining life without him.
In that moment, Nancy touched my heart, and I thought her character, her example, and her courage inspirational.
We all know that as First Lady, Nancy Reagan devoted her time and energy to fighting drug use among children and young adults with her “Just Say No” campaign, but it was as nurturing, loving wife and mother that I related. The grace and strength she showed, and even leadership, gave her a distinctive style and grace.
In fact, I’ve often thought the word “elegant” described Nancy Reagan, too. And, in her own way, the elegance was present, despite the political world she’d come to live in. She was thrust into political life in 1966 when Ronnie ran for governor of California, and won. And, it was during this time that she described with elegance, charm and wit, how she found politics a surprisingly rough business, saying, “The movies were custard compared to politics.”
Whether it’s me, my aging, or having met Nancy Reagan, I’m sad and mournful today at the loss of such an amazing woman, who was a strong partner to her husband, but kind enough to shake my young hand as she and Ronnie passed by the reception line that day so long ago.
My deepest condolences to the Reagan family, and regardless of political stripe or affiliation, today our country lost a special person.