Guest Columnists

Fondness for a Former First Lady

By Father John Catoir

Mrs. Reagan
Mrs. Reagan

The March 6 passing of Nancy Reagan saddened many Americans. I know it affected me more than I expected. She had an endearing smile and a quiet dignity.

Everyone knew the role she played in the life of President Ronald Reagan, and how important she was to him. He claimed that his success was directly related to her presence in his life. He had faced a particularly bad year, including a long hospital stay.

“And then along came Nancy Davis and saved my soul,” he is said to have told his biographer.

The bond between them was very admirable. They fulfilled the highest values of the human spirit in their unconditional love for each other. She was revered and despised for her power in the White House. When she spoke, people knew that the president of the United States was solidly behind her.

I met her at a fundraiser in 1980 during the campaign against President Jimmy Carter. It was at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner. She looked me straight in the eye, and she did that with everyone she met. At the time, all I could think of was her personal warmth.

I read that after President Reagan was shot, she turned to astrology to protect his every move. I’m not sure if the president shared those beliefs, but it served to calm her down, and that was good enough for him. What I saw in both of them was a deep spirituality and a humble dependence on God. They saw the president’s ascendancy to the White House as the work of divine providence.

Her death – and for that matter, the death of anyone – can lead us to begin reflecting on the meaning of life. I’m thinking now about the meaning of Nancy Reagan’s life. She had her share of fame and glory, but what I remember most about her was the love and devotion she and her husband had for each other.

She suffered mightily during the last two decades of her life. Think about it, she lived 12 more years after her husband’s death and was virtually alone. She cared for him for years before he died and when he was lost in the fog of Alzheimer’s disease.

How bravely she carried her cross during those years, until death finally took her at the age of 94. In thinking of her, I’m reminded of a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge:

“For instance, success in all of its various guises; being known and being praised; ostensible pleasures, like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, exploring and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. … They are diversions designed to distract our attention from the true purpose of our existence in this world, which is, quite simply, to look for God.”

Some people are not distracted, and Nancy Reagan was one of those who was not distracted. May she rest in eternal peace.

Father John Catoir writes a syndicated column for Catholic News Service.