- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

No one wore red like Nancy Reagan.

Yesterday, Mrs. Reagan unveiled a small collection of red dresses worn by first ladies that is going on display to benefit the Heart Truth campaign, which raises awareness among women about heart disease.

It was the second of such social events for Mrs. Reagan in as many days. On Wednesday night, the former first lady attended a fundraiser gala in her honor to benefit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Mrs. Reagan has made very few public appearances since her husband’s death in June.

The red dresses Mrs. Reagan donned during her husband’s administration symbolize everything grand about the era: elegance, style and the regal image she cultivates.

The tiny and fragile 83-year-old Mrs. Reagan — wearing a creamy white, silk day suit — was escorted down a flight of stairs in the grand foyer of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on the steady arm of first lady Laura Bush. “We made it,” Mrs. Reagan beamed, gingerly settling into her red velvet chair.

The display features mannequins swathed in red silk and beaded brocade, but one dress that many in the power crowd of women remember best is the floor-length, red lace Oscar de la Renta gown that Mrs. Reagan, then former first lady, wore to a dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1989. It also includes red gowns from Mrs. Bush and former first ladies Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Bush, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson.

The exhibit will be on display at the Kennedy Center until May 30.

And pins shaped like red dresses have been made to promote awareness of women’s heart issues. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women today, a fact that Laura Bush said was a surprise to her. She had assumed it was “a man’s disease.”

A former smoker, Mrs. Bush urged women to exercise more, quit smoking and get healthy. The frequent dieter revealed that it’s not easy being in the White House “when you have a pastry chef whose idea of a light dessert is four layers of chocolate instead of six.”

Among the guests attending were Jackie Leavitt, wife of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt; Catherine Fenton, Mrs. Bush’s former social secretary; Kathleen Matthews, news anchor for ABC 7; Debbie Dingell, wife of Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat; Jan Donaldson, wife of former ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson; Capricia Marshall, former social secretary to Mrs. Clinton; and Ann Jordan, wife of D.C. power broker Vernon Jordan.

During her speech yesterday, Mrs. Bush drew laughs when she suggested that Mrs. Reagan’s love of red began when “a dashing Ronald Reagan proposed to her in a red upholstered booth at a bistro in Los Angeles.”

Asked why first ladies love red, Letitia Baldridge, former social secretary to first lady Jackie Kennedy, said, “It’s a sign of victory. Strength. And it peps people up.”

Eyeing the dresses on display, Mrs. Jordan had a tinge of envy. “I wish I looked as good as they do in red,” she said. “But I don’t. I always think I’m too fat for red.”

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