Political dignitaries, celebrities pay final tribute to Nancy Reagan

Nancy Reagan's Funeral Held Today
Nancy Reagan's Funeral Held Today

SIMI VALLEY, Calif., March 11 (Reuters) - Nearly 1,000 guests, led by first lady Michelle Obama and representatives from nine former White House families, gathered on Friday for a memorial tribute to Nancy Reagan at her late husband's presidential library in Southern California.

A military honor guard carried her flower-bedecked wooden casket to the front of a large white tent where Michelle Obama sat beside former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and two fellow former first ladies - Jimmy Carter's wife, Rosalyn, and the Democratic front-runner in the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton.

SEE ALSO: A love story: Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan completed each other

Sitting nearby were two of the Reagans' children - her daughter Patti Davis and son, Ron Jr., along with Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John Kennedy.

The service brought together Republicans and Democrats alike to pay final respects for a woman especially admired by political conservatives at a time when deep partisan rancor has reverberated through Washington and the 2016 presidential campaign.

Early in the service, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney recalled how the late President Ronald Reagan once joked to him privately about their respective wives, "You know, Brian, for two Irishmen, we sure married up."

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"Theirs was a love story for the ages," Mulroney said of the Reagans. "They had style, they had grace and they had class."

In his eulogy, Reagan's former White House chief of staff James Baker remembered NancyReagan as the "consummate political wife and first lady" and a woman whose devotion to her husband was critical to his political success.

She was to the president, Baker recalled, "absolutely without a doubt his closest adviser," adding that she was particularly adept at knowing who was truly loyal to him.

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The services for the onetime Hollywood actress and first lady capped two days during which thousands of mourners filed past her coffin as it lay in repose at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles.

She was to be buried beside her husband in a private graveside service at the library Friday evening.

Organizers said 950 guests in all were expected for the memorial service, held under overcast skies that partly shrouded gently sloped mountains in the background.

Always fiercely protective of her husband, Nancy Reagan was regarded as one of the most influential presidential spouses in U.S. history during his Republican administration from 1981 to 1989.

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She died on Sunday of congestive heart failure at age 94. Ronald Reagan died in 2004 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease, the progressive brain disorder that destroys memory. He was 93.

"They truly loved each other," Edwin Meese, the longtime Reagan aide who served as attorney general in his Cabinet, told reporters. "Her life really was devoted to encouraging and supporting him, and that carried on even after he went into total seclusion and even when he was no longer capable of really sometimes even responding to that love."

Biographer Craig Shirley recalled that Nancy Reagan also played a direct role at times in the political affairs of her husband, such as having a hand in the firing of campaign manager John Sears in 1980 and the dismissal of chief of staff Donald Regan in 1987.

In addition to Michelle Obama, the roster of invited guests to the memorial included close relatives of all of President Barack Obama's nine immediate predecessors, including children of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Others included television news veterans Diane Sawyer and Tom Brokaw, as well as such showbiz figures as Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston and Wayne Newton.



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