TOPICS > Politics > Nancy Reagan

Nation says goodbye to iconic first lady in California ceremony

March 11, 2016 at 7:31 PM EDT
Former first lady Nancy Reagan was laid to rest at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley Friday morning, in a carefully choreographed ceremony attended by friends, family and first ladies past and present. Judy Woodruff reports on the day’s somber events, and syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks offer their takes on Reagan’s legacy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There were recollections and prayers today for first lady Nancy Reagan at her funeral service held in the hill country northwest of Los Angeles.

Family, friends and first ladies past and present were in attendance, as well as President George W. Bush.

Here are some excerpts from today’s service at the Reagan Presidential Library.

JAMES BAKER, Former Chief of Staff to President Reagan: We gather here today to say goodbye to Nancy Davis Reagan, a beautiful, smart and gracious woman, a woman who captured the heart of a man who loved his craft, his country, and his countrymen, and most especially loved this remarkable woman, a woman without whom Ronald Wilson Reagan would never have become the 40th president of the United States or succeeded as well as he did.

She had an instinct for reading people that the president knew he lacked. “Nancy,” he wrote, “sees the goodness in people, but she also has an extra instinct that allows her to see the flaws.”

The only time I saw her lose her composure was the day the president was shot. She was devastated and, in fact, she fell apart. President Reagan left the hospital convinced that God had spared him for a special purpose. And the first lady left with a fierce determination to protect him in every way that she possibly could.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan were defined by their love for each other. They were as close to being one person as it is possible for any two people to be.

PATTI DAVIS, Daughter of Nancy Reagan: My parents were two halves of a circle closed tight around a world in which their love for each other was the only sustenance they needed. While they might venture out and include others in their orbit, no one truly crossed the boundary into the space they held as theirs.

It’s no secret that my mother and I had a challenging and often contentious relationship. Our emotions burned up the color chart. Nothing was ever gray. But there were moments in our history when all that was going on between us was love. I choose to remember those moments.

RON REAGAN, Son of Nancy Reagan: And, today, my mother comes to rest on this lovely hilltop with its far-reaching views next to her beloved Ronald Reagan Library.

And, by the way, from here, she will be able to keep an eye on things.

Most importantly, she will once again lay down beside the man who was the love of her life, the one she loved until the end of her days.

They will watch the sun drop over the hills in the west toward the sea, and, as night falls, they will look out across the valley. My father will tell her that the lights below are her jewels. The moon and stars will endlessly turn overhead, and here they will stay, as they always wished it to be, resting in each other’s arms, only each other’s arms, until the end of time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Judy Woodruff attended the service today, and she joins me now from Simi Valley.

Judy, your thoughts on what happened.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Hari, it’s raining now, but the sun was shining brightly as this funeral service unfolded here at the Reagan — Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

It was the most beautifully choreographed funeral, if you want to put it that way, that one could imagine. The flowers on the casket were spectacular. The crowd was full of celebrities and people who served in the Reagan administration, a number of influential Republicans.

The service was poignant and it was funny. There were a lot of funny stories about Nancy and Ronald Reagan and how close they were. All in all, it was classic Nancy Reagan.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, Judy, Nancy had a lot to do in the planning and orchestrating who would do what at this ceremony, right?


The people — people who know her said this — again, this was just like what you would expect from the former first lady. She was close to her husband. She wanted to make sure everything was perfect for her husband, and she carried that on through the rest of her life until his death a little over 10 years ago.

And she felt the same way about her legacy, because she saw it connected to his, so she wanted today’s ceremony, this service to reflect the two of them, and that’s really what it was. It was planned to the T, to the program, to who the speakers were, the music, the minister, everything, in a spectacular setting here in the Santa Lucia Mountains in California.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Was this a reunion of Reagan administration staff or were there people from across the aisle as well?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there were both, the Reagan administration represented by Secretary of State James Baker, people like Ed Meese, who were part of the Reagan White House, so many of the press corps who covered the Reagan White House, as I did.

It was a collection of the Reagan family, in addition to the staff and the press. But there were Democrats here as well. We saw — in fact, I saw Vicki Kennedy, the widow of senator Ted Kennedy, here, and a number of others.

So it wasn’t, I would say, a partisan event, but it was very — it was heavy on Republicans, which is exactly what you would expect from the widow of this president who represented the Republican — a Republican icon.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Judy, I want to bring syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks in on this conversation.

Mark, your thoughts on the passing of Nancy Reagan? This happened after we taped the show last week.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Just to add — to fill out the point about being bipartisan, Governor Jerry Brown was there, whose dad Ronald Reagan had defeated to become governor in 1966, the current governor, then Democrat of California, along with Rosalynn Carter, the first lady, and as well as, of course, Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

But Nancy Reagan, the irony to me is that Ronald Reagan is the first of the 44 presidents and only divorced man ever elected, and yet they are remembered as a couple, an incredibly devoted couple, for better, for worse, in sickness and health couple. She was a formidable presence.

I mean, I had met her. I didn’t know her. Judy knew her well. But she was a formidable force in personnel choice in the administration, in the White House.

And she was responsible for what may have been Ronald Reagan’s, in many respects, most important hire, that of Jim Baker, as chief of staff, who had run, ironically, the first — the last two campaigns against Ronald Reagan, that of George H.W. Bush in 1980 for the nomination, for Gerald Ford in 1976, even.

Later — but she reached across. She recognized talent and thought it was in the best interest of Ronnie, her Ronnie, as she called him, to have Jim Baker. And I think it was a wise decision.

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times Columnist: Yes. I am reminded of the Tom Cruise line that “You complete me.”

They really did complete each other. And that was also for better or worse. It was such a self-enclosed, a beautiful love, a tremendously fulfilling love for both of them. But they sort of completed each other’s emotional needs.

And so some people were shut out. And Patti Davis and some of the Reagan staff thought they were shut out from that. And along with that love was a ferocity, as Mark said, a protectiveness.

And I have noticed, in all first ladies, they are always more aggressive on behalf of their husbands than the presidents are themselves. They’re always the tougher presence in the White House. They’re willing to get rid of people. And Nancy Reagan was certainly willing to get rid of people who were not serving, she felt, her husband well.

But it was the power of her love and the grace of her presence. I’m not surprised to hear what Judy said. If you remember those state dinners in the Reagan years, they were always extremely glamorous for the Republicans. And she was sort of the architect of those.

MARK SHIELDS: She liked being first lady. She liked Washington. And it came through.

I mean, we in Washington, the permanent Washington, whatever we are, we tire of people who spend time, effort, energy and millions of dollars to get here to tell us how much they hate it and how unhappy they are here. She really was happy as first lady.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Judy, was there a moment that stood out for you?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there were several.

I’m listening to David and Mark speak about the relationship between the Reagans. They were as close — I think Jim Baker said it here — as close as two people could be and not be one person.

And the point about their circle of closeness was so impenetrable, in the words of their son Ron Reagan, that no one else could get through, including their children. And that came through in a very poignant way in what both children said about how they felt — they loved their parents, but they knew who came first, and that was their parents. It was the president and the first lady.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Judy, thanks so much. We will see you back here on Monday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: See you then.