Nancy Reagan was a formidable first lady from an era of optimism

Morning View
Morning View

The death of Nancy Reagan at the age of 94 is a further closing of the curtain on one of the most vivid periods in modern history – the late cold war.

The former First Lady of the United States was a decade younger than her husband, Ronald Reagan, who became president in January 1981 when he was approaching his 70th birthday and she approached her 60th.

They were modern occupants of the White House, in that they brought Hollywood glamour (he had been a ‘B’ movie star, she was a former actress) to the presidency, but also traditional incumbents (Ronald Reagan was a pre-war conservative who aligned himself with traditional Christian values).

He did not have an entirely unblemished record by those standards in that he was a divorcee when they wed in 1952. But their marriage lasted 52 years until his death in 2004 and was a fairytale romance as far as America was concerned. Nancy Reagan was a major factor in her husband’s success and was said to be influential on him during the presidency.

By the end of President Reagan’s eight years at the helm, he was mocked for his absent mindedness. It was the early stages of Alzheimer’s (diagnosed 1994). During this last chapter of his life, Nancy Reagan was an unstinting support.

From a Northern Irish unionist perspective, the Reagan administration was about as supportive of Britain as any US presidency was ever likely to be.

As a couple the Reagans epitomised the 1980s, as did a handful of other global leaders including Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand and Mikhail Gorbachev (President Gorbachev is the last link to that time – his wife Raisa, who did not always get on with Mrs Reagan, died in 1999).

Nancy Reagan was adored by the American public and respected and viewed with affection across much of the world. There will be much sadness at the passing of a formidable woman who is linked to a political era that established a sense of hope that was shattered on September 11 2001.