Friends, family say final farewells to Nancy Reagan
SIMI VALLEY >> Nancy Reagan is once again beside her beloved Ronnie.
The former first lady's life was celebrated Friday by 1,000 invited guests who gathered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to pay final tribute to her and to the enduring love she and her husband shared during a storied 52-year marriage.
The funeral also marked one of the final chapters of a fading political era that stirs nostalgia among American conservative. Without Mrs. Reagan, her son said, the Republican renaissance of the 1980s might not have happened.
"There would be no Ronald Reagan Presidential Library without a President Ronald Reagan, and there likely wouldn't have been a President Ronald Reagan without a Nancy Reagan," said Ron Reagan, delivering the last of several eulogies during the 90-minute service.
Mourners from the top ranks of Washington and Hollywood heard how while President Reagan was generally affable and trusting, Mrs. Regan was made of different cloth.
She could be gracious and quick with a laugh, but also fiercely protective of her husband and sometimes quick to anger at any perceived slight directed at him.
"I think we can admit that she was not always the easiest person to deal with," her son said, drawing laughter from an audience filled with politicians, heads of state, actors, musicians, a former president and several first ladies.
"She could be difficult. She could be demanding. She could a bit excessive. Truly she could be a royal pain in the ass when she wanted to be," he continued. "But usually only so my father didn't have to be.
"If you happen to run into the ghost of Don Regan sometime, you can just ask him," he added, drawing laughter with the reference to the former White House chief of staff Mrs. Regan pushed her husband to fire after the two feuded over policy issues.
"Occasionally I've thought that even God might not have the guts to argue with Nancy Reagan," the couple's daughter, Patti Davis, quipped.
Each speaker also noted the couple's enduring love.
"When they were together, he hid love notes around the house for her to find," said another Reagan former chief of staff, James Baker. "She reciprocated by secreting little notes in jellybeans in his suitcase.
"Ronald and Nancy Reagan were defined by their love for each other," Baker continued. "They were as close to being one person as it is possible for any two people to be."
President Reagan spoke in public so warmly, and so often, about his wife, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney recalled, that he once told Reagan he was making every other world leader look bad in front of their wives.
"Well, Brian," he said the president told him with a smile, "That's your problem."
The guest list for the funeral told the story of the couple's life together, which stretched from Hollywood's Golden Age to the California statehouse during Reagan's time as governor to the White House.
The gathering also brought together Democrat and Republican, an unusual tableau at a time of deep division in Washington and on the 2016 campaign trail.
Mourners included former Reagan administration official Ed Meese, former House Speakers Newt Gingrich (Republican) and Nancy Pelosi (Democrat), Mike Love of the Beach Boys and singer Johnny Mathis.
Among those in the front row were first lady Michelle Obama, who was seated next to former President George W. Bush. Former first lady and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sat between Bush's wife, Laura, and former first lady Rosalynn Carter. Gov. Jerry Brown escorted Mrs. Obama to the funeral, while former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived with his ex-wife, Maria Shriver.
The actor Mr. T, who became friendly with Mrs. Reagan during her "Just Say No" to drugs campaign, arrived wearing an American flag bandanna.
Heavy rain had been forecast for the ceremony, and guests were ushered into a cavernous waterproof tent behind the library. But a drenching downpour held off until the event concluded.
Mrs. Reagan, who died Sunday at 94, was to be buried next to her husband on the library grounds.
The sprawling, Spanish mission-style library is located between the Reagans' post-White House home in the upscale Bel Air section of Los Angeles and Rancho del Cielo, the "ranch in the sky" where the Reagans spent their leisure time, sometimes on horseback, in the rugged mountains near Santa Barbara.
On Wednesday and Thursday at the library, more than 5,500 mourners filed slowly past the former first lady's closed casket, blanketed with white roses and peonies, Mrs. Reagan's favorite flower.
Tears often fell. The crowd, many in graying years, spoke to a time when it was "morning again in America" and the nation followed the Reagan doctrine to weaken Soviet influence during the Cold War.
Reagan left the presidency after eight years, on Jan. 20, 1989.
The library site, where the 40th president was buried in 2004, provides sweeping views of horse country dotted with oaks and, on a clear day, a vista to the Pacific.
The Reagans "just fell in love" with the spot, Boston developer and Republican fundraiser Gerald Blakeley recalled in a 2004 interview. He was part of a partnership that donated the land where the library now sits.
Michael R. Blood reported from the Reagan library in Simi Valley. John Rogers reported from Los Angeles.