Nancy Reagan set an example of grace and propriety for the world this week.
Her every move chronicled on camera before a global audience, the wife of former President Ronald Reagan emerged before the public as a woman of both touching warmth and determined inner mettle.
“She was an absolute portrait of strength,” CNN’s Paula Zahn observed yesterday. “Given the enormous loss she has suffered, it was incredible how she held up. When Mrs. Reagan leaned down and kissed her husband’s casket as he lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, it was a moment to be remembered.”
The past few days have been filled with similar vignettes. After solemn ceremonies, summer heat, taxing coast-to-coast travel and sorrow, Mrs. Reagan remained steadfast and calm — but never removed from a public eager to be there for their former first lady.
“She was really a role model for all of us,” said Peggy Post, a Vermont-based etiquette expert and great-granddaughter of manners maven Emily Post.
“It’s so helpful to the public to see Mrs. Reagan’s poise, dignity and her warm graciousness at such a difficult time. She made everyone else feel better. She shared her feelings with America,” Mrs. Post said. “And for that, she is also very admired.”
When former President George H.W. Bush told a humorous story about Mr. Reagan during the state funeral, Mrs. Reagan shook her head and laughed with obvious affection. In difficult moments, she did not hide her vulnerability from the nation, clasping the arm of escort Army Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman, commander of the U.S. Military District of Washington.
Journalists have called Mrs. Reagan’s bearing both “uplifting” and “inspired,” and credited her planning for the decorum and precision of the funeral itself.
“When she turned and blew a kiss before departing for California on Air Force One, I know that resonated with the public,” Ms. Zahn said. “The level of compassion and affection the public has for Nancy is huge.”
Indeed, bystanders waved and called, “Mrs. Reagan, we love you” as the somber funeral cortege passed by on the streets of Washington.
While eulogizing Mr. Reagan at his service at the Capitol Wednesday, Vice President Dick Cheney told the former first lady, “I hope it is a comfort for you to know how much he means to us, and how much you mean to us as well.”
She did know it.
In her sole statement after announcing the death of her husband of 52 years, Mrs. Reagan told the nation, “The outpouring of love for my husband has been amazing.”
Press and public have not always been kind to Mrs. Reagan, calling her “Queen Nancy” and “The Iron Butterfly,” and portraying her as cold and calculating, according to her memoirs.
Those days are long gone. In the last decade, Mrs. Reagan’s devotion to her ailing husband has left an entirely new impression on journalists and critics.
“First ladies tend to be lightning rods. But perceptions of Nancy Reagan have changed since she left Washington. We have seen her on the difficult part of her journey with her husband.” Ms. Zahn said. “And she has truly persevered.”