Former first lady Nancy Reagan, known for her influence and devotion to President Ronald Reagan during his eight years in the White House and his decades outside it, died on Sunday at age 94.
The Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, confirmed that Reagan had died in her home in Los Angeles.
Joanne Drake, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said in a statement that the former first lady “died this morning at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 94. The cause of her death was congestive heart failure”.
Reagan will be buried at the presidential library next to her husband, Drake added. She said there will be an opportunity for members of the public to pay their respects before the funeral service.
As first lady, Reagan famously spearheaded the 1980s “Just Say No” campaign against drug abuse, speaking at schools around the country over several years and urging the United Nations to improve drug education. Although she earned scorn for her decision to expensively renovate the White House during a recession, she came to be revered for her work on social causes, particularly in the Republican party and among conservatives in general.
Ronald Reagan died in 2004, at the age of 93 and after years of declining health.
Born Anne Frances Robbins in New York City in 1921, to a car salesman and an actor, Reagan was raised by her aunt and uncle in Maryland after her parents divorced and her mother returned to acting.
Known as Nancy from an early age, she took the surname Davis from her mother’s second husband, and pursued acting at Smith College and on Broadway in the 1940s. By the 1950s she was in Hollywood, where she met her future husband, then an actor himself.
“Nancy Reagan was totally devoted to President Reagan, and we take comfort that they will be reunited once more,” said Barbara Bush, wife of Reagan’s vice-president and successor, in a statement. “George and I send our prayers and condolences to her family.”
The Reagans appeared together in the 1956 film Hellcats of the Navy, and their devotion to each other became famous as they rose through the ranks of public life.
The couple brought an exacting, theatrical attention to presentation to government service, so much so that she was sometimes accused of scripting the president’s words and framing his image. After he had ascended to the office of California’s governor, she helped manage Reagan’s insurgent presidential campaign in 1976.
In office, after a gunman tried to kill the president, she argued to her husband in favor of stricter gun control, which he eventually embraced.
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said on Sunday: “You didn’t have to be a Reagan Republican to admire and respect Nancy Reagan.
“She was a tower of strength alongside her husband, had strong beliefs and was not afraid to chart her own course politically. She persuaded her husband to support the Brady Law, and their advocacy was instrumental in helping us pass it.”
In the aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal over arms sent to anti-government groups in Nicaragua, she helped oust a White House chief of staff. That former official then revealed the first lady’s attention to astrology, which she later explained was a reaction to the attempted assassination on her husband.
“Astrology was simply one of the ways I coped with the fear I felt after my husband almost died,” she wrote in her 1989 memoir, My Turn: the Memoirs of Nancy Reagan.
At the White House, the first lady paid meticulous care to nearly all facets of life: she would have the staff rehearse elaborate meals for dignitaries, and brought in top Democrats to talk to her husband during the Iran-Contra affair. After her husband’s death she carefully arranged the stirrups of the horse that accompanied his funeral procession.
“He was all I had ever wanted in a man, and more,” she wrote in the memoir. In an interview, she once said: “I was the happiest girl in the world when I became we.”
Her husband had no compunctions about showing his own affections, telling her at a luncheon in 1988: “Nancy, in front of all your friends here today, let me say: Thank you for all you do.Thank you for your love. And thank you for just being you.”
When the former president was diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the former first lady lobbied to lift restrictions on stem cell research – in opposition to the Republican party’s position. The couple later founded a research institute dedicated to studying the causes and treatment of the disease.
Reagan is survived by two children, Patricia Ann and Ronald Prescott, and two stepchildren. Her adopted stepson Michael – from Ronald Reagan’s previous marriage – tweeted: “I am saddened by the passing of my step mother Nancy Reagan. She is once again with the man she loved. God Bless.”
This article was written by Alan Yuhas and Martin Pengelly in New York, for theguardian.com on Sunday 6th March 2016 17.57 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010