- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

Former first lady Nancy Reagan made a rare public appearance last night at a $1,500-a-plate fundraiser to benefit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.

A frail-looking Mrs. Reagan arrived last night at the Ronald Reagan Building downtown wearing a white beaded gown by Oscar de la Renta.

In an interview with The Washington Times at a pre-dinner reception, she said she was “happy to be here” for “A Nation Honors Nancy Reagan.”

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Reagan had been at the White House when the city became panicky over a small plane breaching the capital’s no-fly zone.

“It was a little odd. I’d never been down there,” she said about the secure area in the basement where she and first lady Laura Bush were moved.

“It was so strange. I didn’t know where we were going,” she said, adding that the Secret Service agents “were great.”

She was joined at last night’s event by almost 600 people, includinga bevy of Washington’s movers and shakers: political strategist Karl Rove; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; Republican Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Bill Frist of Tennessee; and former vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp.

Vice President Dick Cheney escorted Mrs. Reagan to her seat and paid tribute to her during the program, calling her the “very ideal of grace, loyalty and compassion? and joking about a flap regarding her White House redecoration plans.

“In that era, our national confidence was revived, our faith in the presidency was renewed, and the White House itself never looked better,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid made the praise bipartisan by recalling her ?Just Say No” campaign against youth drug abuse and her work for Alzheimer’s disease research.

“The Reagan legacy continues to be felt,” the Nevada Democrat said.

The show-business contingent included Pat Sajak, Merv Griffin and Larry King; crooner Tony Bennett performed his signature song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and others during the gala.

A video tribute showed Mrs. Reagan as an actress, as a campaigner for her husband, as California first lady and as White House hostess.

“It’s hard to believe that I really did all that,” she told her audience.

“Nancy Reagan represents the Reagan administration for all of us,” said Sheila Tate, her former press secretary. ?We all want to spend as much time with her as we can.”

About $2.5 million was raised at the gala, which will go toward the construction of a hangar at the library to house the Boeing 707 that served as Air Force One for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush before it was retired last year.

Today, Mrs. Reagan will attend at the Kennedy Center the presentation of a collection of red dresses worn by six of America’s former first ladies and by its current first lady.

The exhibit will benefit the Heart Truth, a cause dear to Mrs. Bush, who is one of the group’s national ambassadors who campaign for heart-disease awareness among women. The exhibit, featuring dresses donated by Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush, Mrs. Reagan, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the first lady will be on display through May 30.

The reception will be followed by a private “ladies-only” lunch in Mrs. Bush’s private quarters at the White House, and will be attended by a group of old friends from California, many of them longtime fundraisers for the Reagan library. Among those scheduled to attend are close Reagan friends Betsy Bloomingdale and Marion Jorgensen; Selwa “Lucky?’ Roosevelt, former Reagan White House social secretary; Margaret Bush, Mrs. Bush’s sister-in-law; and Mrs. Tate.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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