Ellis Washington
Nancy Davis Reagan (1921-2016): Reagan's soul
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By Ellis Washington
March 9, 2016


Nancy and Ronald Reagan (pictured) met as actors and appeared together in the 1957 film Hellcats of the Navy. (See UK Daily Mail)

"Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan."

~ Michael Deaver, Reagan Deputy Chief of Staff (1981-85)

Nancy Davis: Born with the gift of Encouragement

For this essay tribute to First Lady Nancy Reagan (1921-2016), who died Sunday at age 94), I did not want to dwell on the obvious biographical superlatives of which there are many regarding the recently deceased First Lady who revolutionized that position more than any other First Lady in American presidential history with the exception of FDR's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. Here, I want to focus on one aspect of the love story that was Nancy and Ronald Reagan that was stated so sublimely, so succinctly in 2007 by former Reagan aide, Michael Deaver – "Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan." In other words, history has affirmatively demonstrated that Nancy Davis singularly guided Ronald Reagan's career from Hollywood all the way to the White House to be arguably the greatest U.S. president of the twentieth century!

Born Anne Frances Robbins on July 6, 1921 – and given the name Nancy by her mother – Mrs. Reagan's father abandoned the family when she was a very young child. Her mother, Edith Luckett Robbins, a fine actress in her own right, toured the country with many great actors of her day. She later married surgeon, Dr. Loyal Davis, and the family moved to Chicago where Nancy was adopted by her stepfather and took his name, Davis.

Following in her mother's footsteps, after attending the famous prep school Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., college in Chicago, and later at Smith, an elite woman's college in Massachusetts. After graduation a young Nancy Davis pursued the acting profession in New York and Hollywood, where in October 1949, she met with fellow actor Ronald Reagan. Nancy had a big problem with the Democrat-controlled House on Un-American Activities Committee where she was accused of being a Communist. Reagan, then President of the union in Hollywood called the Screen Actors Guild, was asked by a movie director to clear Nancy's good name. After helping restore her reputation, the couple had an immediate chemistry together and began exclusively dating one another by 1950. The couple were married in 1952.

Perhaps with the communist allegations against Nancy still in his mind, later Reagan would famously theorize how to expose a Communist – "How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."

Nancy was more than Reagan's soulmate; she was his Soul. Virtually immediately after their marriage in 1952, less than a year later under Nancy's transcendent tutelage, Reagan, whose lackluster Hollywood career was all but over, was back on top. Here's an excerpt from a Time Magazine Commemorative Edition after the death of Reagan in 1994:
    Reagan felt with some justification that his union activity damaged his career as an actor. After more than 50 films, he was getting no offers of good parts. By 1953 he was reduced to doing a nightclub routine in Las Vegas, where he introduced various singers and dancers and made apologetic jokes about his own inability to either sing or dance. Was the optimist discouraged? Hardly. He was soon offered a new job that was to change his whole life. For $125,000 a year, he would act as host and occasional star of a weekly television drama series for General Electric; for 10 weeks each year he would also act as a kind of goodwill ambassador to GE plants around the nation.

Nancy Davis: Still going strong in her 90s!

Nancy was a one-woman wrecking ball – a dynamo. She was born and bred to help others reach their transcendent potential and in Ronald Reagan she painted her most magnificent canvas for the Ages. So strong was her Spirit of Encouragement, her transcendent Will to Power was so enduring and revelatory, that even after the death of President Reagan in 2004, Mrs. Reagan continued on her political activism. As she struggled with her own physical challenges that would have sidelined most other people in their 80s and 90s – such as a broken pelvis in 2008 and three broken ribs in 2012. Undaunted, Nancy soldiered on sponsoring stem cell research, Alzheimer's research and other social causes that affected her, her family, and society.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R- KY) recalled his impression of the Reagans, "Hands intertwined, Nancy and Ron rose to the pinnacle of political power, weathered cancer and personal heartbreak, and braved the depths of Alzheimer's cold embrace – always together." A description of their love story on the Reagan Foundation website reads:
    What the public saw was a couple intensely devoted to one another. They were always holding hands. Ronald Reagan visibly lit up when Nancy entered the room. And then there was the "gaze" – Nancy would look adoringly at her husband when he spoke, seeming to hang on his every word.

    Their devotion to each other seemed at times too good to be true, and some along the way would doubt their sincerity. 'But there was nothing disingenuous about the Reagans and their obvious affection for one another. Theirs was a genuine love affair. They never took each other for granted, and it has been said that they never stopped courting.
Nancy Davis: Friend or Furies? – It's your choice

Think about all the great men through the Ages – from antiquity to the present. Think about all the great, transcendent figures that have positively affected history and humanity like a Ronald Reagan and examine their biographies – Did they have a strong, courageous, visionary woman in their corner comer, a woman who would stand with them come hell or high water? Reagan did.

On my Facebook page last Monday, I made this tribute to First Lady Nancy Davis Reagan:
    First Lady Nancy Davis Reagan (1921-2016) died Sunday. Second only to Eleanor Roosevelt in using that position to effect positive change on society and specially to elevate her husband, Ronald Reagan from a C-List Hollywood actor doing bit parts in Las Vegas Shows 1948-52 to the U.S. Presidency and arguably the greatest U.S. President of the 20th century.

    Here's an interesting article by National Enquirer about Nancy's existential feuds with people... Perhaps keeping conflict with people kept her alive for almost a century?
Yes, Nancy was loving and fearlessly loyal woman (especially to Reagan), but she was also sometimes self-serving, conniving, suspicious, a vengeful woman like the Greek Furies of antiquity – especially to those who wronged (or were perceived to have wronged) her or President Reagan. Yet if I was in a fox hole during a protracted battle, I would certainly gain a measure of comfort if I had a woman like Nancy in that fox hole with my troops, or waiting for me if and when I returned home from war for her devotion to Ronald Reagan – raising him up from a washed up C-list Hollywood actor reduced to introducing variety acts in Las Vegas, to in less than a year after marring this miracle woman (March 4, 1952), helped 'Ronnie' (as she affectionately called him) to become the number one corporate pitch man in America (General Electric).

After that gig (starting pay: $125,000 per year), where he honed his reading, literary and rhetorical skills writing his own GE business pitches while traveling across America meeting people and leaning the intricacies of human nature – skills he would later adopt, develop and use as an orator and legendary speech writer – introducing candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) at the 1964 Republican Convention with his iconic primer to Conservatism – A Time for Choosing. From that iconic speech in less than 2 years Nancy helped Reagan to become the two-term Governor of California (1967-75), absent any political experience).

Next Nancy used her legendary encouragement gifts for Reagan to coming within 11 electoral votes and nearly winning the 1976 Republican nomination against a sitting President Gerald Ford, who was appointed after Nixon was forced to resigned due to the Watergate political cover-up. But perhaps Nancy's greatest feat of helping Reagan reach the depths of potential and greatness he never knew he had, to raising him up from the abyss of despondency, defeat and despair which Reagan suffered after losing that 1976 GOP nomination, to rise yet again from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix to run for the U.S. presidency once again in 1980 against a sitting Democrat President Jimmy Carter and winning against all odds.

What many people fail to remember from their study of American presidential history is that during the 1980 election where Ronald Reagan was called "The Original Mr. Anti-Establishment," was that the Republican Political Establishment didn't all sing Reagan's praises. Most GOP politicians and all of the Democrat media at the time thought Reagan to be crazy, an anti-Communist zealot (conspiracist), a cowboy, and not a serious politician, openly mocking Reagan's aphorism – "Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it." To Nancy's credit, she ignored the critics and reflexive Reagan haters and urged her husband to lick his wounds from his 1976 defeat by Gerald Ford, and go full power for the presidency again in 1980.

History has now affirmed beyond any doubt that Nancy Davis was not only the unheralded architect of the metamorphosis of Ronald Reagan – softening some of the rougher, warmongering edges of husband, polishing his oratory and writings skills, and even after he won two landslide victories in 1980 and 1984, Nancy would not rest on his laurels but urged Reagan to pull America back from abyss of World War III and the existential nuclear Armageddon that threatened the U.S. and USSR since 1945 with the end of World War II. It was Nancy who compelled President Reagan to enter into a Nuclear peace treaty with America's arch enemy, the Communist Soviet Union and their unflappable leader, Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev. It was Nancy who pushed Reagan to not sacrifice SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) at the 1986 Nuclear Peace Conference in Reykjavik, Switzerland when on that fateful, cold autumn day Reagan walked out on Gorbachev by standing on the principle of AMERICA FIRST.

History repeats itself: Reagan vs. Trump

Just as it were with the Republican Socialist Party hating Reagan in 1980, so it is in 2016 against Trump. In other words, there were many, many hateful and untrue allegations said against Reagan by his political rivals in 1960s-1980. For example, Reagan's 6 political rivals during the 1980 GOP elections were – Phil Crane, Howard Baker, John Connally, Robert Dole, George Bush and John Anderson. Also virtually every Republican in Congress at that time together with the Democrat Socialist media, all hated Reagan and Reagan conservatism with a fanatical passion. Thus, the same Establishment figures then spewing hateful, jealous, untrue things about Reagan in 1964-1980 were the political progenitors of today spewing the same anti-America propaganda about Reagan's political successor... Donald J. Trump.

Trump tweeted: "Nancy Reagan, the wife of a truly great President, was an amazing woman. She will be missed!" Indeed, Nancy Davis Reagan was the embodiment of the Soul of Ronald Reagan. Now they are together, forever in heaven.


Happy Birthday Mr. President: The couple celebrate the former President Reagan's birthday (1993)

I end this essay tribute with the prescient epitaph to First Lady Nancy Davis, Reagan's Soul, by President Reagan's Deputy Chief of Staff, Michael Deaver – "Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan."

Nancy Davis (1921-2016)... R.I.P.


Book Notice

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Invitation for manuscripts

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Ellis Washington

Ellis Washington is a former staff editor of the Michigan Law Review (1989) and law clerk at the Rutherford Institute (1992). Currently he is an adjunct professor of law at the National Paralegal College and the graduate school, National Jurisprudence University, where he teaches Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, American History, Administrative Law, Criminal Procedure, Contracts, Real Property, and Advanced Legal Writing, among many other subjects... (more)

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