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From the archives: By his side, but her own person

The late President Ronald Reagan and former first

The late President Ronald Reagan and former first lady Nancy Reagan in a photo released to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on March 4, 2002. Credit: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

This story originally appeared in Newsday on June 6, 2004 after former President Ronald Reagan's death. 

WASHINGTON -- In a rare appearance last month, former first lady Nancy Reagan spoke at an event to raise money for embryo stem cell research. She hoped, she said, that others would benefit from research on such diseases as Alzheimer’s, which had afflicted her husband, Ronald.

“Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him,” she said. “Because of this, I’m determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain.”

Reagan, 82, who was married to the nation’s 40th president for 52 years, had been by the ailing president’s side, particularly as the family publicly acknowledged his bout with the disease 10 years ago.

Reagan’s recent public support of stem cell research, however, has put her at odds with other Republicans, including President George W. Bush, who opposes the research. 

Still, Reagan, whose support carries much clout, is doing what she says she has to do. “I just don’t see how we can turn our back on this,” she said at the fundraiser.

In recent days, Reagan’s fami- ly and friends had reported that the former president wasn’t far- ing well, saying he barely knew them or his wife, whom many describe as extremely devoted. “This is it,” Nancy Reagan had reportedly said. Late last week, she called their children, Ron Jr., Patti Davis and Ronald Reagan’s son, Michael, from a previous marriage, to their California home.

In a brief statement yesterday, Nancy Reagan acknowledged her husband’s death and thanked everyone for their prayers.

Reagan was particularly protective of the former president and his privacy. For years, she tended to him as he lived in relative seclusion and battled the disease.

The couple had always appeared very close and was often spotted holding hands and calling each other by endearing terms. Ronald Reagan was known to call Nancy “Mommy.”

Reagan, a former actor, married Nancy, an actress, in 1952.

While the two were very close, there were family strains with their children.

Along the way, however, Nancy Reagan has also dealt with less than flattering images of her as coldhearted, superficial and a clotheshorse.

Reagan was once criticized for buying extremely expensive china for the White House. It was reported, however, that former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton once approached her and thanked her for the china, which she said she had used often.

Nancy Reagan also has been ridiculed for consulting with an astrologer when her husband was president to map out the timing of his speeches and travel.

But more often she was cred- ited or blamed for her behind-the-scenes role at the White House.

Like other first ladies, Nancy Reagan took up the cause of some high profile issues, including her “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign.

After her husband’s illness, she became more politically active and independent, some historians said yesterday.

Also yesterday, politicians, historians and others heaped praised on Ronald Reagan’s presidency and Nancy Reagan’s role in his life. Republicans have long touted the Reagan years.

Last year, CBS canceled a mini-series on the couple’s lives after complaints from con- servatives and Republicans. 

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