There was a palpable hush in the packed auditorium at the Ronald Reagan Library & Presidential Museum as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan entered the room with Nancy Reagan balanced on his arm.
The date was May 2006 and Greenspan was talking about the Reagan legacy in one of his last public talks as Federal Reserve chair. Just two years after the former president was buried at the Reagan Library, Greenspan talked about the accomplishments of the Reagan era — in tax reform, arms control and in restoring the American economy to pre-eminence in the world.
In retrospect, a fair share of the credit for the accomplishments of the Reagan era should go to the extremely well dressed woman on Greenspan’s arm that evening. For it turns out that the CEO of the Reagan legacy was his longtime partner Nancy, who passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 94 on March 6.
Reagan biographer and Summerland resident Lou Cannon was among the first to observe the extremely close relationship between the Reagans and the role she played as adviser and confidante.
She was one of those who suggested he break with Republican orthodoxy and work with former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev on arms control and negotiate what would later become an end to the Cold War as the Soviet empire collapsed.
At another crucial point she intervened to oust White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan and bring in Jim Baker, a veteran dealmaker, to soften the standoff between the administration and the Democrats in the Congress. In many respects she rescued the legacy of the Reagan second term from the punishing scandal of the Iran-Contra affair.
It was in the post-presidential years that Nancy Reagan’s impact was felt in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The preservation of the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara County and the creation of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley likely would not have happened without her approval.
The Reagan Library’s bipartisan appeal for research and education in collaborative decision-making is in part due to her influence. Also, the well-attended series of lectures that happen at the library draw a large audience and have helped keep the Reagan legacy alive.
On the national stage, her push for stem cell research to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease earned her kudos from an unlikely source, President Barack Obama.
But she did not forget her Republican roots or the importance of capturing the presidency for the GOP.
It is not surprising that the first debate of the 2016 primary campaign was held at the Reagan Library with invitations issued personally by Nancy Reagan. She was, until the end, a person in charge.