- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

She was My beloved First Lady, Nancy Pants, My Darling. He was Poppa, Your Ranch Hand, and just plain Ronnie forever and ever.
The unabashed and forthright love between Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, is the stuff folks pine after and dream about, sentimental and sweet but thoroughly indestructible.
And that is the point.
In a book released yesterday, Mrs. Reagan has assembled more than five decades of adoring, often charming communiques from her husband that have become guardians of his memory, she says.
"They recall happy times," Mrs. Reagan writes. "And above all, they preserve the voice of the Ronnie I love."
The voice has taken many forms over the long course of the Reagans' relationship, which began when the couple had their first date in 1949.
The letters in "I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan" are inked in careful script on swank stationery, across greeting cards and bits of scrap paper. There are telegrams and hotel letterheads, tiny doodles, valentines, and dispatches from the White House.
The letters accumulated in a shopping bag and at one point were destined to join the formal papers and weighty documents of the former president's library.
But Mrs. Reagan realized that her romantic stash was much more than ephemera.
"I was struck by how much they said about him," she wrote. "These letters are special because they give a lovely portrait of a man, in his own words."
And who was this man?
He was not complicated, Mrs. Reagan noted, but he was private and, deep down, even shy. There is old-fashioned decorum in many of these letters, reflecting a couple with both passion and partnership.
He was, Mrs. Reagan said, everything she had ever wanted.
Even after 50 years, she still revels in the light and optimism, the good humor and deep emotion that are part of the man she married and who served as president of the United States from 1981 to 1989.
But the book does not linger forever on the bright side.
At 89, Mr. Reagan rests in seclusion most days, his wife steadfastly by his side as Alzheimer's disease takes its toll.
"No one can really know what it's like unless they travelled this path," Mrs. Reagan writes in the final pages. "You get tired and frustrated, because you have no control and you feel helpless."
There is a toll, too, with a deeply committed relationship.
"We've had an extraordinary life, and I am blessed to have been married for almost fifty years to a man I deeply love," Mrs. Reagan notes. "But the other side of the coin is that it makes it harder. There are so many memories that I can no longer share."
Mrs. Reagan calls Alzheimer's "a truly long, long good-bye," and wonders if his disease was accelerated after he was thrown from a horse in 1989 and suffered a concussion. She ponders the fact that her husband always said that God had a plan for them both.
But Ronald Reagan's optimism and spirit have rubbed off on her and prevail in this book.
"You get up, you put one foot in front of the other, and go and love; just love," Mrs. Reagan writes. And the disease is no defeat. It is, she says, "the living out of love."
Mrs. Reagan will donate the royalties of the book to the Alzheimer's Foundation and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

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