Nancy Reagan, former first lady, Ronald Reagan’s wife of more than half a century, public health advocate, and philanthropist, passed away on Sunday at 94.
While she’ll preeminently be remembered for loving her husband and standing by him until his death in 2004, Nancy, born Anna Frances Robbins, had a storied life herself. Born in 1921 in New York City to parents — an actor mother and a car salesman father — who divorced when she was still young, Nancy followed in her mother’s footsteps. “I was never really a career woman but [became one] only because I hadn’t found the man I wanted to marry. I couldn’t sit around and do nothing, so I became an actress,” she said.
Turns out, while keeping busy working, she found her future husband while he, a fellow actor, was serving as the president of the Screen Actors Guild. Robbins, who used the stage name Nancy Davis at the time, was seeking help to be removed from a blacklist that was thwarting her chances at booking more roles (as it turns out, there was another woman using the same name, who was the one that should’ve been blacklisted). The rest, as they say, is history.
The happily married pair, who had two children together, Patti and Ron, eventually switched professions entirely when Ronald became the governor of California in 1967. He served for two terms before setting his sights on a higher office, running unsuccessfully to be POTUS in 1976 and then again in 1980 when he finally won.
Before even moving into the White House, Nancy developed a refined and elegant aesthetic, setting her sights on bringing Hollywood glamour to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. When there, she achieved just that, restoring sophistication to Jackie Kennedy standards — and then adding her own twists. Nancy turned a closet in the master bedroom into a small beauty parlor and had two hairdressers and makeup artists at her beck and call. She had a keen love of fashion and often sported gowns by American designers such as Bill Blass, Galanos, and Oscar de la Renta.
Yet her taste for the finer things in life proved to be controversial with the American public who were concerned they were the ones footing the bill for her “extravagant” purchases (her inaugural wardrobe allegedly cost $25,000). This penchant for grandiosity even led to the nickname “Queen Nancy."In 1988, the White House even had to acknowledge during a press conference that she borrowed designer clothes and jewelry from houses. She had promised to stop the practice years earlier because of the cloudy laws surrounding accepting gifts as FLOTUS as well as tax and ethics statutes. In the end, Nancy’s support of American designers earned her a lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Today, her official portrait hangs in the Vermeil Room of the White House in which she wears a long, slim red dress — her favorite color — and stands in front of a wooden wall, looking ahead, a bright light illuminating her face. Through thick and thin she stood by her husband, who died in 2004, and many now seek comfort on the fact that the two of them can be united again.