Lyn Nofziger, a long-time adviser to Ronald Reagan, died yesterday in his Falls Church home after a long bout with cancer. He was 81.
Wife Bonnie, daughter Glenda Parry of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and grandson Matthew Parry were at his side when he succumbed to bladder cancer at about 5:15 p.m.
“He died peacefully,” Mrs. Parry said.
Mr. Nofziger, a plain-talking Californian, left a successful career in political reporting to serve as a trusted adviser to Mr. Reagan. He began as spokesman for the Gipper’s 1966 campaign for California governor, followed the former actor to the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento as director of communications, and finally served in the White House as Mr. Reagan’s first political director.
“Lyn was the embodiment of the Reagan legacy,” said American Conservative Union President David A. Keene, a long-time friend of Mr. Nofziger’s. “He quit journalism when he first met Reagan because he thought Reagan was someone who could change the country for the better.”
Though Mr. Nofziger earned a good living as a lobbyist after leaving the White House, the hard-drinking cigar-chomper was usually seen with shirt collar still unbuttoned and tie still loosened, the way he appeared when he was in the White House.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan said she “was deeply saddened this afternoon when I heard of Lyn Nofziger’s death.”
“Ronnie valued his advice — and good humor — as much as anyone’s. I spoke with him just days ago, and even though he knew the end was near, Lyn was hopeful and still in good spirits,” Mrs. Reagan said in a statement.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” added White House spokesman Eryn Witcher last night.
Craig Shirley, author of a book on the 1976 Reagan campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, said that “from Day One in Sacramento, [Mr. Nofziger] was Reagan’s link to the conservative movement around the country.”
“With the exception of Nancy Reagan, no one else was so important to Reagan in that there would never have been a Reagan presidency without Lyn Nofziger,” Mr. Shirley said. “He was the steel in Reagan’s back that kept him going in 1976 when everybody else around him wanted him to drop out of the nomination race before the North Carolina primary,” which Mr. Reagan won, cementing his role as the champion of conservative political hopes and Republican front-runner for 1980.
Mr. Nofziger, a wounded veteran of World War II who was born in Bakersfield, Calif., became friends with another wounded veteran, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. He worked under Mr. Dole when the Kansan headed the Republican National Committee during the Nixon presidency. Mr. Nofziger lost fingers to shrapnel as an Army Ranger during the Omaha Beach D-Day landing on June 6, 1944.
He left the Reagan administration a year and two days into Mr. Reagan’s first term, with the word on the street being that Mrs. Reagan had pushed him out. Another rumor had it that Michael Deaver — intensely disliked by conservatives — and some other top Reagan aides forced him out and used Mrs. Reagan as the cover story.
“Let me tell you, nobody could have gotten rid of me if I had wanted to stay,” Mr. Nofziger told The Washington Times for a profile last November. “I will guarantee you that because Ronald Reagan would not have let them get rid of me.”
Mr. Nofziger also worked on political campaigns for Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes.
He is also survived by a sister, Rosemary Will of San Jose, Calif., and by two other grandchildren, Zachary and Jacqueline Parry.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports.