Tributes pour in for former US first lady

Mrs Reagan (left) at a ceremony to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2002; (top) with Mr Ronald Reagan in a 1952 engagement photo; and with Mrs Raisa Gorbachev (above, left) at the White House in 1987.
Mrs Reagan at a ceremony to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2002.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mrs Reagan (left) at a ceremony to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2002; (top) with Mr Ronald Reagan in a 1952 engagement photo; and with Mrs Raisa Gorbachev (above, left) at the White House in 1987.
With Mrs Raisa Gorbachev (left) at the White House in 1987.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Nancy Reagan, known to be fiercely protective of her husband Ronald, dies of heart failure at 94

LOS ANGELES • Perceived as regal and cold, Mrs Nancy Reagan was feared by White House aides who often found themselves butting heads with her over policy and personnel appointments.

But as the influential and stylish wife of the 40th president of the United States nursed husband Ronald through his 10-year descent into Alzheimer's disease until his death in 2004, America softened its view.

Warm tributes poured in for the former movie starlet, who died of heart failure at her home on Sunday, aged 94.

US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle praised Mrs Reagan as a "proud example". She made her own mark as first lady with her signature "Just Say No" drug awareness campaign, launched in 1982.

"Nancy Reagan once wrote that nothing could prepare you for living in the White House. She was right, of course. But we had a head start, because we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example, and her warm and generous advice," they said in a statement.

The Obamas said Mrs Reagan transformed the role of first lady during her 1981-1989 White House tenure, and later became an advocate for millions suffering from Alzheimer's.

Mrs Reagan (left) at a ceremony to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2002; (top) with Mr Ronald Reagan in a 1952 engagement photo; and with Mrs Raisa Gorbachev (above, left) at the White House in 1987.
With Mr Ronald Reagan in a 1952 engagement photo. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LEFT HER MARK

She served as first lady with unbelievable power, class and grace and left her mark on the world.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, actor and former governor of California

Former first lady Barbara Bush said she and her husband, former president George H.W. Bush, who was vice-president under Mr Reagan, took comfort in knowing that Mrs Reagan would be reunited with her husband.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Mrs Reagan was a "noble" woman. "She will be remembered as a great friend of the State of Israel."

The Hollywood glitterati weighed in on social media. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who like Mr Reagan rode his Hollywood fame to the governor's office in California, said on Twitter that Mrs Reagan was "one of my heroes".

"She served as first lady with unbelievable power, class and grace and left her mark on the world," he said.

Mrs Reagan was often seen as the "bad cop" to her husband's congenial "good cop", putting her at odds with his senior staff, who wanted more exposure for the man known as the "Great Communicator", the Washington Post reported.

After John Hinckley Jr attempted to assassinate her husband in 1981, Mrs Reagan kept his senior aides and a sympathetic public at bay while he convalesced.

"I felt panicky every time he left the White House," she wrote in her memoir.

Eventually, this overprotection led to her consulting astrologer Joan Quigley, who predicted "good" days for the president to travel or even leave the White House and "bad" days when he should stay home. Mrs Reagan insisted that the staff follow her guidance, the Post reported.

As Nancy Davis, she was an actress during the 1940s and 1950s and married Mr Reagan, a prominent film actor, in 1952. As first lady, she sought to emulate the style of one of her predecessors, Mrs Jackie Kennedy. She extensively redecorated the White House, and accepted designer dresses worth US$1 million and a 4,732-piece set of china worth US$209,000, the BBC reported.

She was a fierce guardian of her husband's image and a trusted adviser. She played a seminal role in the 1987 ouster of White House chief of staff Donald Regan, whom she blamed for ineptness after it was disclosed that Mr Reagan had secretly approved arms sales to Iran in a scandal known as Iran-Contra because some of the proceeds from the sale had been diverted to the Contras opposing the leftist government of Nicaragua.

In the White House, Mr Reagan had referred to the Soviet Union as "the evil empire", but as the heads of state eventually developed a warm relationship, the wives started their own cold war.

Mrs Reagan was said to be furious when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's wife, Raisa, said during a Washington visit, "I missed you in Reykjavik", referring to the 1986 summit in Iceland.

"I was told women weren't invited," Mrs Reagan replied, the Washington Post reported.

After the presidency, the Reagans returned to Los Angeles and settled in a ranch house in exclusive Bel Air.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'Tributes pour in for former US first lady'. Print Edition | Subscribe