- - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Callista and I were sorry to learn of the passing of Nancy Reagan on Sunday.

We will miss her supportive and welcoming presence at the Reagan Presidential Library, but are comforted to know that she will once again be reunited with her beloved Ronnie.

Being buried next to President Reagan at the Reagan Library is exactly what Mrs. Reagan intended from the time the Library was built.

For 52 years, the Reagans were inseparable. President Reagan felt it deeply every day they were apart. He built his life around hers and she built her life around his. They were partners in life at every level.

We were reminded of Nancy’s dedication to President Reagan when we filmed part of our documentary “Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny” at the Reagan ranch in 2008.

There is a very comfortable chair at the ranch in the family room, where Mrs. Reagan would sit for hours at a time talking to her girlfriends.

Nancy wasn’t particularly fond of the ranch. She was much happier in Hollywood. But she knew that her husband relaxed, exercised and renewed himself at the ranch. She was willing to live on a mountain, away from the friends she cherished, if that made her Ronnie healthier and happier.

For his part, the President doted on her. As Reagan biographer Craig Shirley wrote, “they started with a blind date and never stopped dating.”

I had a personal experience of the President’s protectiveness toward his wife in 1988. In the wake of the Iran-Contra Scandal, Nancy Reagan believed that Don Regan, the White House Chief of Staff, had failed to protect the President. She worked to fire Regan and eventually succeeded. In 1988, after leaving the White House, Regan got his revenge by revealing that Nancy was consulting an astrologer.

The charge was accurate. After John Hinckley shot the President in 1981, Nancy was frantic with fear. She saw her husband exposed day after day to large crowds in which there could be another assassination attempt. In her concern, she reached out to an astrologer.

Following Regan’s revelation in 1988, the Washington press corps ran with the story. They could never get much to stick to President Reagan, whose Teflon qualities were enormously frustrating to his liberal opponents. But they could hurt Nancy, and they knew that hurt the President.

After a few days, I thought the liberal outcry had become absurd. I went to the House floor and gave a speech defending Mrs. Reagan and denouncing the liberal smear artists.

The next day, I was back home in Georgia speaking to students at Bremen High School. Suddenly, the principal came into the auditorium and said the White House was on the phone asking if I could take a call from the President.

If you are a junior Congressman, getting a call from the president of the United States is a big deal. The students and teachers waited as I went to the principal’s office to take the call.

Sure enough, it was President Reagan calling to thank me for defending Nancy. He told me how much it meant to him personally and how worried he was that nasty people in the media were smearing her.

For the President to break into his busy schedule to thank a junior House member for supporting his wife was a sign of how constantly they worried about and cared for each other.

Nancy returned the devotion when President Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She cared for him every day and was at his side through the long decline.

At one point, a mutual friend, Ken Duberstein, who had always cared deeply for both President and Mrs. Reagan (he was Reagan’s last White House Chief of Staff), told me she was a little depressed and lonely. I called her and the pain was obvious in her voice.

“Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease,” she said. “You are looking at a loved one who hasn’t changed but in his eyes you know he isn’t there any more.” She bravely advocated for Alzheimer’s awareness and research.

Among the happiest memories Callista and I have of Mrs. Reagan was an evening a few years ago when she hosted a small group of us for dinner at the Reagan Presidential Library. One of her liveliest guests was Merv Griffin. Their friendship went back decades. He represented the entertainment world that she and President Reagan had worked and lived in.

After dinner, Merv sat down at the piano and sang an old Sinatra hit, “Nancy with the Laughing Face.”

The pleasure Mrs. Reagan took in being with friends and having a song sung in her honor was delightful.

The Reagans helped make America a better place. We will miss Nancy as we miss President Reagan.

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