Former U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan died today, age 94

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(CNN) Former first lady of the United States of America, Nancy Reagan, who joined her husband on a storybook journey from Hollywood to the White House, died today (Sunday). She was 94.

Former first lady of the United States of America, Nancy Reagan
Former first lady of the United States of America, Nancy Reagan died today, age 94

Reagan died at her home in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure, according to her spokeswoman, Joanne Drake of the Ronald Regan Presidential Library.

“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,” Drake said in a statement.

The former first lady requested that contributions be made to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation in lieu of flowers, the statement said.

In a statement, President Barack Obama thanked Reagan for her “warm and generous advice.”

“Our former First Lady redefined the role in her time here,” he continued. “Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.

“We offer our sincere condolences to their children, Patti, Ron, and Michael, and to their grandchildren. “

“With the passing of Nancy Reagan, we say a final goodbye to the days of Ronald Reagan,” wrote 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Facebook. “With charm, grace, and a passion for America, this couple reminded us of the greatness and the endurance of the American experiment. … God and Ronnie have finally welcomed a choice soul home.”

Former first lady Barbara Bush, whose husband George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan as president, said, “Nancy Reagan was totally devoted to President Reagan, and we take comfort that they will be reunited once more. George and I send our prayers and condolences to her family.”

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, also were moved by Reagan’s death.

“Mrs. Reagan was fiercely loyal to her beloved husband, and that devotion was matched only by her devotion to our country,” Bush said in a statement.

He observed that her influence on the White House was “complete and lasting.”

A fierce protector

nancy 2As first lady during Ronald Reagan’s eight years in the White House, Nancy Reagan was known as the “Just say no” spokeswoman of anti-drug campaigns and as a fierce protector of her husband, both personally and politically.

 When Ronald Reagan was shot in a 1981 assassination attempt, Nancy Reagan never left the hospital where the president was treated until he was released, according to her press secretary, Sheila Tate.

After she and her husband left Washington, she became his protector again as he struggled with Alzheimer’s disease until his death in 2004. Afterward, she remained a staunch guardian of his image and legacy.

“She was always the one who kept the flame alive,” said CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, a former Reagan adviser.

Her official White House biography quotes Nancy Reagan as saying, “My life really began when I married my husband.”

A marriage made in Hollywood

She was born Anne Frances Robbins in New York City on July 6, 1921. Her mother and father separated before her birth.

Her mother, Edith, toured with a theater company while Nancy lived with an aunt and uncle. Her mother married Chicago neurosurgeon Loyal Davis when the future first lady was young. He adopted her and she settled down in Chicago, before she adopted the stage name Nancy Davis and headed west to Hollywood.

“She told me that MGM was like a big family, that when she signed with MGM, she became part of that family. They took care of her,” Tate said.

As part of the MGM stable, Nancy Davis made 11 films from 1949 until 1956, but her career almost ended before it began. Her name appeared on a list of people thought to have been communist sympathizers in 1949.

“She got a mailing that was for another Nancy Davis, and this other Nancy Davis was in connection with one of those Hollywood blacklists that were going on in the Hollywood red-hunting days,” biographer Lou Cannon said.

Upset, she turned to a friend for help and he set up a meeting with the president of the Screen Actors Guild, a dashing leading man named Ronald Reagan.

It would be the start of one of Hollywood’s and Washington’s most enduring love stories. In fact, her final screen appearance was playing opposite her future husband in a movie called “Hellcats of the Navy.”

The two wed on March 4, 1952, in a private ceremony at a small church near Los Angeles. She began her role as a wife of a politician when her husband won the 1966 California gubernatorial race.

In politics

Ronald Reagan’s two terms as California governor catapulted him into the national spotlight, and he ran for higher office.

He swept into the White House and when he was inaugurated in 1981, Nancy Reagan brought to Washington a style and elegance that many loved.

But she was also criticized for wearing expensive designer gowns and ordering expensive new china for White House state dinners — even though the place settings were paid for with private funds.

“Nancy Reagan was hurt by it, it bothered her because people didn’t understand,” former White House Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein said. “But the impact was more on him, because ‘Somebody was picking on my Nancy.’ And that was unfair.” (CNN)

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