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Nancy Reagan Remembered As A Fierce Defender Of Her Husband


Peoples' opinions of Nancy Reagan were nearly as strong as their opinions of her husband. The former first lady died over the weekend in Los Angeles. She was 94. Nancy Reagan is being remembered as a fierce defender and graceful supporter of President Reagan. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports on people who turned out to pay their respects at a landmark to the Reagans.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library northwest of Los Angeles closed abruptly Sunday morning so preparations could begin for Nancy Reagan's funeral and burial here. Heidi Katz drove to the library as soon as she heard of the former first lady's passing, hoping to pay her respects to the Reagans.

HEIDI KATZ: The love story between the two of them always really touched me. It was very evident that that was extremely sincere.

SIEGLER: For now, she and others had to settle with the makeshift memorial that began popping up on the street outside the gates.

KATZ: In fact, I'll show you. I just posted my picture on Facebook of them. Let's see.

SIEGLER: People drop by for photos, to place flowers, candles and handwritten notes on the dirt below the stone library sign. Jessica Patterson brought her two young daughters. She says Mrs. Reagan's strength and grace will live on as a powerful message for all young women.

JESSICA PATTERSON: We grew up children of the '80s. You know, we all heard Nancy Reagan's message of just say no to drugs. She was an influential woman there and beyond.

SIEGLER: Being here, you quickly got the sense that for California Republicans especially, this is really it, the end of an era. And yesterday was a time to escape the rancorous presidential campaign and remember an icon from a very different time.

PATTERSON: And I think that that's something that people are certainly craving today. We're craving for leaders that will bring us together and not alienate half of the country.

SIEGLER: Down the sidewalk, Jeff Diham shared a similar sentiment, saying the Reagans symbolized a different, more conciliatory kind of politics.

JEFF DIHAM: I think Ronald Reagan and many of the people from that era would be turning over in their graves if they saw what was going on in our current political climate.

SIEGLER: The Reagan library is something of a hilltop shrine for America's GOP establishment, especially those nostalgic for the party's more unified past. President Reagan was buried here in 2004 after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer's - Nancy Reagan nursing him at home until his death. The tributes to Mrs. Reagan poured in yesterday. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush called her a devoted wife and praised her advocacy for stem cell research. On Twitter, Ted Cruz admired the former first lady's deep passion for the country. And Donald Trump called her an amazing woman.

JOHN HEUBUSCH: I kind of hope maybe it serves as a reminder to how we can bring civility back into politics.

SIEGLER: John Heubusch, the director of the library and Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, said the former first lady's passing should lead to some soul searching for Republicans in the presidential race.

HEUBUSCH: And I think what the Reagans might - they tried to set an example that you hoped that people would follow, where you don't have to tear your party apart or tear your opponent apart in order to succeed in the job.

SIEGLER: Heubusch, who was hired personally by Mrs. Reagan six years ago, stood solemnly on the lawn yesterday afternoon. As TV crews prepared for their live shots, an excavation truck and bulldozer passed by. He said the first lady would soon join her husband on the west side of the library with its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.
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