Strong, caring US first lady


A vibrant public figure who always faced life's challenges with strength, toughness and grace passed away on Saturday.

Like most anyone in the political world, Nancy Reagan, who was 94, had her admirers and her detractors. But for sure, she was no ordinary first lady. She was far more than a presidential sounding board and state-dinner hostess. She was President Ronald Reagan's most influential adviser.

By all accounts, inside the Reagan White House she was pragmatic and tough. She had power and influence, and lots of it. What's more, she was a resolute defender of her husband and his policies.

Such stature and influence within the administration made the first lady a magnet for criticism. But Nancy Reagan said what she thought, often in the simplest and most unambiguous terms.

When, during an Oakland question-and-answer session, a schoolgirl asked what she should do if someone offered her drugs, the first lady famously said, "Just say no." Many criticized the response as simplistic and even childish. They ignored the context of the remark. It was a direct response to a simple question from a child. The phrase eventually morphed into the motto for an anti-drug campaign that the former first lady was later to say was one of her proudest achievements.

Years after the Reagans left the White House, even Nancy Reagan's toughest critics admired her steadfast and exemplary caregiving for a former president who was dying a slow death from Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's finally took Ronald Reagan in 2004, and as it usually does, it took a huge toll on his beloved caregiver. She said as much in interviews as she described the loneliness the disease brings.

In that time she gave America a lesson of devotion that will live as part of her legacy.

The San Jose Mercury News


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