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The Legacy Of Nancy Reagan


We've been remembering former first lady Nancy Reagan this morning. She died today at her home in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure. She was 94 years old. We're joined now by NPR political analyst Cokie Roberts. Cokie, thanks so much for being with us.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: Nancy Reagan met her husband, Ronald Reagan, when she was a young actress. He by then was an established star. Their's really was a true love affair. What can you tell us about the early years of their relationship?

ROBERTS: Well, she really set her cap for him and wanted to marry him. And people in Hollywood talked about how she really was after him. And he - and he finally succumbed. And she was a very, very devoted wife to him. We saw that throughout their marriage, their long marriage, not only as her time as a political wife in California and then here in Washington, but then in the years afterwards, when it was so difficult with him having Alzheimer's. She first came back to Washington after the presidency for an Alzheimer's event. And she - I was emceeing it. And she said that, you know, it was just so, so hard. And then they played this video of Ronald Reagan ending with him sending her a kiss. And I was down for the count. So you can imagine how she was. And she said, I don't think I can go on. And I said, Mrs. Reagan, you're a pro. And she was. She absolutely was 'til the end.

MARTIN: Was she always comfortable in her role as such a high-profile political spouse?

ROBERTS: No, I don't think so. And of course she got a lot of criticism, as all first ladies tend to for one reason or another. She was - seemed to be buying too much china and wearing fancy clothes. And so she dissipated some of that, though, by going to one of the - one of the Washington dinners and coming out in costume and singing "Second Hand Rose." So she had a way of having a sense of humor about it. And by the end of her life, she was very comfortable in her role as a protector of the legacy of Ronald Reagan. I - well, I last saw her at Mrs. Ford's funeral. But she - I saw her before that at the Reagan library just a few years ago. She was frail, but she was completely with it and very much involved in the work of the library. By the way, Rachel, that was not long after Barack Obama had been nominated - had been - was in the White House. And she said - she said to me, aren't those little girls absolutely adorable?

MARTIN: Oh, the Obama girls.


MARTIN: Just briefly, is there one image that will stand out to you that you will remember of her?

ROBERTS: Well, I think that the - standing by him after he was shot was the image that all of us will really have firmly in our minds from that time when he was in the White House. You forget how close to death he came and how she was there absolutely, you know, stalwartly by his side. And he wrote that when he woke up and saw her, he realized that he was going to make it.

MARTIN: NPR political analyst Cokie Roberts remembering first lady Nancy Reagan. Thanks, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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