Former First Lady and legendary tough cookie Nancy Reagan died today at age 94. She was the toughest, closest and most trusted adviser of her husband, Ronald Reagan, during his California governorship and U.S. Presidency. I never had any strong opinions about her one way or the other. I didn’t dislike her as much as I didn’t care. Except, of course, when she launched her infamous “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign in 1986, which everyone regarded as an embarassment.
But my heart went out to Mrs. Reagan one day about three years ago, give or take. It happened inside Alex Roldan hair salon, which is on the first floor of the London hotel in West Hollywood. She was driven from her Bel Air home to the salon every two or three weeks, my hair guy told me, but she was obviously frail and her legs were apparently gone. I recognized the syndrome as my mother, who passed last June, was going through similar woes at the time.
Two people — a personal assistant and a hair salon employee — were trying to help Mrs. Reagan move from a shampoo chair into her wheelchair, and it was taking forever. I was about ten feet away and was on the verge of offering to help. It wasn’t my place, of course, so I just stood there and watched. The poor woman. Old age offers very little dignity, and no mercy at all. Now she’s off the coil.
From a 12.20.89 Washington Post article about Peggy Noonan‘s “What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era“:
“The most devastating commentary on Reagan comes from this exchange between Noonan and her boss, Bentley T. Elliott…Noonan: ‘The president is clearly an intelligent man, but I get the impression sometimes his top aides don’t think he’s very bright.’ Elliott: ‘There are people who say that’s why the First Lady is so protective of him…because she thinks he’s not smart…because she really thinks he’d do anything, he’s so innocent and dumb.”
“Noonan gives the First Lady a modicum of sympathy. After all, it’s tough to be confined to a job with no job description. But then, Noonan brings out the long knives: ‘They called her Evita, they called her Mommy, they called her the Missus and the Hairdo with Anxiety. Her power was everywhere…She was everywhere.'”