- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Few people played as a critical a behind-the-scenes role in the rise of Ronald Reagan and the modern American conservative movement as Lyn Nofziger, who died Monday at his home in Falls Church at 81. An Army ranger who lost fingers to shrapnel during the D-Day landing, Mr. Nofziger left a successful career in political reporting to become a top Reagan adviser.

As spokesman for Mr. Reagan’s 1966 campaign for California governor, he was a trusted aide in 1968 when the California governor tried to wrest the Republican presidential nomination away from Richard Nixon. During the spring of 1968, Mr. Nofziger recounted many years later, Mr. Reagan visited Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond, who told the then-governor: “You’ll be president some day, young man, but not this year.”

Perhaps the most serious political challenge Mr. Nofziger would face during his many years as a senior Reagan aide came in March 1976, during the primaries. President Ford had swept all of the early primaries, and prominent Republicans were pressuring Mr. Reagan to drop out and endorse Mr. Ford. Mr. Nofziger, a stalwart conservative, would have none of it. As political consultant Craig Shirley told Ralph Hallow of The Washington Times: Mr. Nofziger “was the steel in Reagan’s back that kept him going in 1976 when everyone else wanted him to drop out of the nomination race before the North Carolina primary.”

After Mr. Reagan’s election, Mr. Nofziger served slightly over a year as White House political director, before leaving the White House in 1982. He became a lobbyist, but instead of the conventional K Street uniform, he was usually seen with his shirt collar unbuttoned and tie loosened, chomping on a cigar and drinking a concoction of whiskey mixed with milk. The editor of this page, who was a young White House aide during the 1980s, recalls meeting Mr. Nofziger, who had left the government, for lunch. Mr. Nofziger grabbed his White House badge and twirled it, telling him that the same people who wouldn’t return his calls before he joined the White House wouldn’t return them after he left.

In his final years, Mr. Nofziger established his own blog, wrote poetry and became prolific as a book critic for this newspaper. In one case, Mr. Nofziger wrote a scathing review of a professor’s book. The writer complained and Mr. Nofziger responded that he would have written a nicer review if the book hadn’t been so bad. But Mr. Nofziger subsequently ended up befriending the professor and they established a friendly e-mail relationship.

Lyn Nofziger — journalist, gruff, cigar-chomping pol, trusted aide, and warm, kind-hearted man — will be missed.

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