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Nancy’s Elegance Shaped the Reagan Presidential Legacy: Death of First Lady Nancy Reagan Inspires Fond Remembrances of Her Graceful Spirit

Nancy Reagan attends her gown exhibit with fashion designers Diane von Furstenberg and James Galanos on the red carpet during the opening of “Nancy Reagan: A First Lady’s Style,” an exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2007. Photo by Jann Hendry
First Lady Nancy Reagan with her husband, President Ronald Reagan, circa 1980s.
First Lady Nancy Reagan with her husband, President Ronald Reagan, circa 1980s.

Remembering Nancy Reagan

 July 6, 1921 – March 6, 2016

By  Margie Anne Clark

Simi Valley, Calif.-  A look back from the archives:

If fashion can be defined as a universal language expressing who we are and where we are going, then Nancy Reagan spoke it fluently, with a radiance and grace that defined a presidential legacy.

Like a late 20th century vignette of Camelot, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum opened its new exhibit, “Nancy Reagan: A First Lady’s Style” on Nov. 10, 2007 in Simi Valley. Highlights from a collection that spans more than 50 years are showcased, beginning with the former first lady’s 1952 wedding dress and ending with the suit she wore for President Reagan’s funeral in June 2004.

Weeks before last Thursday’s red carpet gala celebrating the opening, the exhibit’s designer, Russ Jenkins, was on hand to give visitors an early glimpse of the collection.

“She was a tremendous example of a first lady,” said Jenkins, owner of WRJ Design Associates LLC, as he thumbed through the pages of a pictorial book that will be available for purchase at the presidential library.

The colorful book puts into context many of the fashions that will be on display through November 2008. Indeed, Nancy’s style and grace during the Reagan years of the 1980s may well have served as an elegant reflection of her husband’s magnanimous optimism.

“The public will be able to see the beauty of her gowns that she wore during their travels and wonderful dinners,” Jenkins said.

“The dresses are absolutely spectacular and show the history and legacy of Mrs. Reagan,” he added.

Imagery and architectural elements relating to the White House will carry the audience through the exhibit and highlight historic milestones. The focus will be on Nancy Reagan’s duties as first lady, her philanthropic endeavors and the love story that she and the president shared.

Jenkins noted that the first lady’s collection will include pieces by James Galanos, Caroline Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, Valentino Garavani, Adolfo and Yves Saint Laurent.

“Through her generosity in donating most of her closet, Mrs. Reagan has given us a wonderful opportunity to understand her role of representing our country. She was a tremendous first lady,” Jenkins said. “The display also showcases the incredible talent of the American fashion designer, while reflecting Mrs. Reagan’s taste and eye for style,” he continued, noting that in 1988, the Council of Fashion Designers of America bestowed its Lifetime Achievement Award upon Nancy Reagan.

The book also serves to reflect on the Reagan’s romance – starring two star-crossed lovers whose biggest double-billing played out on the world stage for all to see.

In a written statement, the former first lady and actress, who went on to become an icon of American couture fashion, expressed her gratitude for the privileges she enjoyed during her White House years.

“I am delighted that these designers are being recognized for their incredible talent. It was an honor to wear each of these pieces, and every gown, dress and suit brings back wonderful memories, moments in my life that I will remember and cherish forever,” Nancy Reagan said.

Diane von Furstenberg served as master of ceremonies at the celebrity-studded private reception that opened the exhibit on Nov. 8. An honorary committee included fashion luminaries Galanos, Herrera and de la Renta.

Story originally posted in 2007.  All rights reserved. 

More on Nancy Reagan from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library:

Office of Nancy Reagan, Sunday, March 6, 2016




Los Angeles, Calif. – Nancy Davis Reagan, former First Lady of the United States, died this morning at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 94. The cause of death was congestive heart failure.

Mrs. Reagan will be buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, next to her husband, Ronald Wilson Reagan, who died on June 5, 2004.  Prior to the funeral service, there will be an opportunity for members of the public to pay their respects at the Library.  Details will be announced shortly.

In lieu of flowers, Mrs. Reagan requested that contributions be made to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation at www.reaganlibrary.com

For continuous information on the week’s events, please visit the Reagan Library’s web site atwww.reaganlibrary.com.

A biography of Nancy Reagan is below.

Office of Nancy Reagan

Nancy Davis Reagan

July 6, 1921 – March 6, 2016

Nancy Davis Reagan was born on July 6, 1921, in New York City. Raised in Chicago, she graduated from Girls’ Latin School and went on to Smith College, Northampton, Mass., where she graduated in 1943.

In her early career, Nancy Davis worked as an actress in stage, film and television productions. In 1949, she signed a seven-year contract with MGM. During this time, she met Ronald Reagan and they were married on March 4, 1952. She made eleven films in all, including three after her marriage. Her last film, at Columbia in 1956, was Hellcats of the Navy, the only film in which she and her husband appeared together.

Shortly after Ronald Reagan became Governor of California in 1967, Mrs. Reagan began visiting wounded Vietnam veterans and became active in projects concerning POWs and servicemen missing in action.  While First Lady of California, she made regular visits to hospitals and homes for the elderly, as well as schools for physically and emotionally handicapped children. During one of these hospital visits in 1967, she observed participants in the Foster Grandparent Program, a program which brings together senior citizens and handicapped children, and she soon became its champion. Later, as First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Reagan continued to help expand the program on a national level and promote private funding in local communities.

Upon becoming First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Reagan’s primary focus was fighting drug and alcohol abuse among youth. To spotlight the problem, she traveled nearly 250,000 miles throughout the United States and abroad in conjunction with her campaign to fight substance abuse. She appeared on television talk shows, taped public service announcements, wrote guest articles, and visited prevention programs and rehabilitation centers to talk with young people and their parents.

After leaving the White House on January 20, 1989, Mrs. Reagan established the Nancy Reagan Foundation to continue her campaign to educate people about the serious dangers of substance abuse. In 1994, the Nancy Reagan Foundation joined forces with the BEST Foundation For A Drug-Free Tomorrow and developed the Nancy Reagan After-school Program, a drug prevention and life-skills program for youth.

For ten years, Mrs. Reagan’s priority was caring for her husband at home as he battled Alzheimer’s Disease. Following his death in 2004, she was devoted to projects related to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, where she served on the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, and promoted her husband’s legacy of leadership and freedom.

Nancy Davis Reagan was the only daughter of Dr. Loyal Davis and Edith Davis of Chicago and Phoenix.  She is survived by her brother, Dr. Richard Davis, and two children with Ronald Reagan – Patti Davis and Ronald Prescott Reagan, along with numerous nieces and nephews.