Life of Nancy Reagan Celebrated at Funeral; Political Heavyweights, Elderly Stars Attend Service

A thousand guests were invited to the service at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library northwest of Los Angeles, where the former first lady will be buried next to her husband.
A thousand guests were invited to the service at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library northwest of Los Angeles, where the former first lady will be buried next to her husband.

Political and Hollywood heavyweights from past and present mourned and reminisced over a bygone era at the funeral of Nancy Reagan — a reflection of the unique and enduring cultural sway held by the former first lady and her husband since their time in the White House.

They talked of her signature elegance and the dedication she brought to her causes. But most of all, they talked of a fully partnered marriage and the abiding love for her husband that was the center of her life, even after his death.

The Reagans were “defined by their love for each other,” said former secretary of state James Baker at the service.

While her husband was alive, Mrs. Reagan was fiercely protective of every aspect of his life, he said. After his death, Mrs. Reagan dedicated herself just as fiercely to President Ronald Reagan’s memory and place in history. The two, Baker said, were “as close to being one person as any two people could be.”

“My parents were two halves of a circle. Nobody truly crossed the boundaries of the exquisite space that was theirs,” said their daughter Patti Davis, who made brief reference to her at-times bitter relationship with her strong-minded mother. Her mother’s wrath for those who crossed her was fierce, Davis recalled: “Even God might not have the guts to argue with Nancy Reagan.”

But so visceral was her mother’s love for her father, Davis said, that her mother felt haunted for weeks after his death — hearing his footsteps down the hall, seeing him at the foot of her bed. She described “the circle of their own private world — indestructible, impenetrable, an island for two.”

The funeral – an invitation-only affair at the Reagan Presidential Library — was attended by representatives of 10 White House families. Shortly before the funeral began in a history-filled first row, former first lady Hillary Clinton and Caroline Kennedy could be seen helping former first lady Rosalynn Carter find her place between them. Sitting with them: first lady Michelle Obama; former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura; Caroline Kennedy; Tricia Nixon; and Lynda Byrd Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson.

The guest list was like a flashback to a bygone era, with celebrities like Wayne Newton, Anjelica Huston, Melissa Rivers, Tina Sinatra, Bo Derek and Ralph Lauren. Mr. T— a stalwart ally in Mrs. Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign — arrived through a side entrance dressed in full camouflage attire, combat boots and an American flag wrapped around his head.

“Theirs was a love story for the ages,”said Brian Mulroney, who was Canada’s prime minister when Reagan was president. “They had a magnificent sense of occasion. They had style and they had grace and they had class.”

In one of the most poignant moments of the service, Mulroney read a 1981 love letter that Ronald Reagan wrote to his wife.

“For there could be no life for me without you,” the letter read. “I love the whole gang of you — Mommie, First Lady, the sentimental you, the fun you and the peewee powerhouse you. Merry Christmas you all — with all my love. Lucky me.”

Mrs. Reagan’s funeral brought together under one tent notable Democrats and Republicans at a deeply divisive time — from Newt Gingrich and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

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SOURCE: Karen Heller and William Wan 
The Washington Post