upon a time, I thought there were no such things as heroes.
I can be more cynical than The
Cynic (another Political USA columnist), and I have never
been able to idealize another human being to the point of
near-worship that heroism demands. Heroism seemed a silly
idea -- old-fashioned and dangerously close to idolatry.
No, heroes were definitely not my thing--until I started
following the ongoing saga of Nancy Reagan.
Mrs. Reagan was born Ann Francis Robbins on July 6, 1923.
She had a tumultuous childhood marked by her parentsí early
divorce and virtual abandonment by her mother during her
growing-up years. By the time Ann was seven, her mother
had slowed her acting career enough to take a more active role
in Annís life. A man named Loyal Davis married Annís
mother and legally adopted the girl who would change her name
first to Nancy Davis, and later to Nancy Reagan.
Nancy attended Smith College, where she was a drama major.
In the late 1940ís, she signed a seven-year contract with MGM
Studios and moved to Los Angeles. Her arrival in Hollywood
was during the height of the McCarthy era, and the lifelong
conservative was dismayed to discover her name on a list of
suspected communist sympathizers. It was then that she
contacted Ronald Reagan, the attractive president of the Screen
Actors Guild, avowed anti-communist, and recent divorcee.
Well...not really. Nancy had (and has) way more class than
that. She actually got a friend to approach the future
President about asking her to dinner. Really classy women
should not need to ask men out, as everyone knows.
Ronald Reagan did, in fact, ask Nancy out. Despite his
insistence that he had an early call and would need to cut the
date short, they stayed out until three in the morning laughing
and talking. Soon they were in love, and they were married
Reagan recently released a book of President Reaganís love
letters to her (I
Love You, Ronnie, Random House), written over a period
of more than forty years. The letters offer a picture of
the President that was rarely seen in his public life -- his
sentimental, vulnerable, and very mushy side.
One of the letters said: "Beginning in 1951, Nancy Davis,
seeing the plight of a lonely man who didn't know how lonely he
really was, determined to rescue him from a completely empty
life. He sits in the Oval Office from which he can see (if he
scrooches down) her window and feels warm all over
just knowing she is there."
That kind of quote is a moving admission coming from the leader
of the free world. The rest of the letters range from
silly ramblings of a man too much in love to apologetic pleas
from a contrite husband. All of the letters are touching
in a way that can elicit tears from even the most jaded
Though I envy the love that Nancy received from her Ronnie, that
is not why she has become my hero. It is admirable, but
not heroic, to be a good wife to a man who showers you with love
letters and affection. Nancy Reaganís heroism has
developed since 1994, when President Reagan announced he has
Our beloved 40th President has deteriorated mentally to the
point where he no doubt fails to recognize the object of his
lifelong affection. Mrs. Reagan admits that conversations
with him are impossible, and she has given up showing her
husband videos from his political days because he does not
remember any of it.
As a former First Lady and a very wealthy woman, Mrs. Reagan
could easily entrust Ronnieís care to the best in-home nurses
in the world and be free to spend her days with friends and
family, doing as she pleases. Instead, she spends day
after day with him in their Bel Air home, caring for the man
who no longer writes beautiful love poetry or even says hello.
Recently, a news story reported that Mrs. Reagan has forbidden
President Reaganís old friends and political associates from
coming to visit him. She said it upset him that he could
no longer recall the names of the people who had worked under
him and for him. (It is a testament to the enduring
goodness of the man that he even cares to remember staffers he
knew 20 years ago. I wonder if, three months later, Bill
Clinton remembers anyone but Monica?)
Mrs. Reaganís vigorous protection of her 90 year old husband
is a powerful symbol of what commitment means. Nancy
Reagan is my hero because when she repeated the vows that joined
her with another "ítil death do us part," she took
them literally. Her strength of character, ability to
endure true hardship, and willingness to love endlessly with no
reward are what make her, at least in my view, a true hero.
When asked why she continues to sacrifice her Ďgolden yearsí
to care for a man she no longer knows, she simply replies,
"I know he would do it for me." And it is surely
the truth. To hell with cynicism -- they are both heroes.
Kirsten's Fan Club
I Love You, Ronnie
by Nancy and Ronald Reagan
Reagan, In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan
That Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America
Founding Brothers : The
by Joseph J. Ellis
Atlas Shrug? The Economic Consequences of Taxing the Rich
by Joel Slemrod
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