A bittersweet ending has come to the Hollywood romance that is one of America’s greatest love stories. Nancy Reagan began to lose her husband, President Ronald Reagan, in 1994 when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
She then put him to rest in a grave on top of a mountain in Simi Valley, California, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum after he died on June 5, 2004.
Now, with her passing on Sunday, March 6, 2016, Nancy Reagan’s spirit has climbed the mountain in Simi Valley to be by her husband’s side once again.
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During my research and filming as one of the producers of the C-SPAN series “First Ladies: Influence and Image,” I visited the Reagan Library in November 2013. Just days before I got there, Mrs. Reagan had given the museum a little white box with some of her treasured keepsakes and mementos. Among the items were three gold keys.
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Ronald Reagan had given the first key to Mrs. Reagan in 1950 when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. They were dating at the time, and Mrs. Reagan — then Nancy Davis — had just been given her own private dressing room under her new contract with MGM. The gold key was shaped with the theater masks of tragedy and comedy at the top, and it went to her new dressing room.
Clearly she thought enough of the token to keep it safe for 63 years until she turned it over to the museum.
Two years later, after they were married and bought their first house together, Nancy returned the gesture in the form of two gold house keys. The tops of the keys were shaped like little houses and had red heart-shaped gemstones. Mrs. Reagan’s key has her initials engraved on the back and President Reagan’s has his. In addition, his key has something special that his wife included for him. Above his initials, inscribed in Mrs. Reagan’s handwriting, are the words: “Our First.”
When asked if this was love at first sight, Mrs. Reagan always answered, “It might not have been, but it was pretty darn close.” The couple often spent time away from each other because of his business travel. Reagan was out of town a lot as president of the Screen Actors Guild, as governor of California, and later as president of the United States.
One of the most personal and remarkable items at the Reagan Library and Museum is a letter that Ronald Reagan wrote to Nancy Reagan in 1953 shortly after they were married. He had been in New York on business, while she stayed behind in California.
The letter starts off very affectionately, addressed to “Nancy Pants.” He goes onto have a conversation with her, as if she were there with him at dinner. He writes about the meal, and what she would have liked or disliked. He holds a written conversation with her about other diners in the restaurant, and laughs about jokes they would have told each other.
I was told that they used this style of letter writing quite often in these situations. The Reagans had a bond so strong and so special that even when they were apart, they were still together.
After the president’s Alzheimer’s had progressed, Mrs. Reagan did an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in which she talked about the “long good-bye” to her husband. She was very open about the loneliness that the disease had created in her life. She said that her partner, the man with whom she had spent almost her entire life, the man with whom she was looking forward to sharing her golden years, was taken away from her. Her pain was clear.
Now, Nancy Reagan’s pain is gone. She will be laid to rest next to her husband, President Ronald Reagan, in the grave on top of the mountain in Simi Valley, California, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.
She has been reunited with her “Ronnie.” They are together once again.