In Sickness and In Health: In Praise of Nancy Reagan

When Ronald Reagan was elected president, many people thought that the world would end.

It didn’t.

In fact, Reagan was a great believer in compromise, a word that seems to be lost in today’s political discourse.

When Nancy Reagan took over the role of First Lady, she replaced Rosalynn Carter, who had a great passion for issues that affected people often forgotten – those with mental health problems. Nancy Reagan focused on redecorating the private quarters of the White House and spending more than $200,000 for new china bordered in her favorite color, red.

Many people felt like she brought back class to the title of First Lady. Honestly, I wasn’t necessarily one of them. I needed a little more convincing of her relevance.

Reagan being inaugurated as president at the White House, January 1985Three months into his presidency, Reagan was shot and almost died. At the time, the media played up his injuries as only a flesh wound. In response, Nancy Reagan apparently became very watchful of his schedule and activities. She famously turned to astrology to predict when it was safest for him to leave the White House. Since traveling to India, I have learned that many more people than I ever believed still trust their fate to the stars. Indira Ghandi and many other Indian leaders depended and still depend on astrology to make major decisions. In any event, I can see why she was so protective.

Ronald Reagan came to her defense when she was accused of orchestrating the removal of the defense minister, because she didn’t like him. Reagan said she was “no dragon lady” which is exactly what people began to call her.

It wasn’t until he was out of office that I grew to have respect for her. When Pres. Reagan began to develop Alzheimer’s, she never left his side. When he announced to the world that he was entering the long goodbye, he declared his only regret was that he would be putting Nancy through what was about to happen. He knew she would not leave his side.

After watching my mother-in-law’s decline into Alzheimer’s and observing what it took for my wife Mary to care for her, I now have great respect for Nancy Reagan in that she indeed never left her husband’s side.

Nancy Reagan was 94 when she died on Sunday. It’s easy to forget the politics of 30 years ago, but it’s not as easy to forget how people express their love and devotion in such a public and difficult way. But today, I am grateful for Nancy Reagan for showing us all how to love someone through the depth of sickness and deepest sorrow.

No matter your politics, she is to be admired for that.


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