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Nancy Reagan funeral: Children's memories, 35-year-old letter from Ronald highlight emotional ceremony

"She will once again lay down beside the man who was the love of her life -- the one she loved until the end of her days," the former first couple's son, Ronald Prescott Reagan, said during Friday's ceremony.
By Doug G. Ware   |   Updated March 11, 2016 at 6:56 PM
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SIMI VALLEY, Calif., March 11 (UPI) -- Former first lady Nancy Reagan was remembered Friday in an emotional memorial service at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, in a ceremony similar to the one she attended for her husband nearly 12 years ago.

The service was held Friday morning at the library in Simi Valley -- located 50 miles northwest from downtown Los Angeles -- under overcast skies and with hundreds of mourners in attendance.

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Reagan, who played a highly influential role in her husband's two-term administration between 1981 and 1989, died Sunday at the age of 94 at her home in Bel Air.

The service was accompanied by singings of "America the Beautiful," led by the 1st Marine Division Band from Marine Corps Camp Pendleton in San Diego, and "Amazing Grace" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by the Santa Susana High School Choir.

Every last detail of the funeral, in fact, was planned by Nancy Reagan herself -- including the entire guest list, which featured a number of Hollywood celebrities, former politicians and relatives of past presidents.

Among those in attendance were first lady Michelle Obama, California Gov. Jerry Brown, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former president George W. Bush and family, Hillary Clinton, Caroline Kennedy, journalists Diane Sawyer and Larry King, and actors Gary Sinise, Tom Selleck, Bo Derek, John Stamos and Mister T.

The couple's biological children, 63-year-old Patti Davis and 57-year-old Ronald Prescott Reagan -- each a noted Democrat who have opposed some of their father's ideologies -- delivered reflective remarks at the ceremony.

"In the weeks after he died, my mother thought she heard his footsteps coming down the hall late at night. She said he would appear to her long after midnight sitting on the edge of the bed," Davis, delivering the eulogy, recalled. "Over time, what she referred to as late-night visits from my father ceased. She no longer heard his footsteps in the hall, but she never stopped missing him."

"It's no secret that my mother and I had a challenging and often contentious relationship. ... I tried her patience and she intimidated me," she added. "But there were moments in our history when all that was going on between us was love."

President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan share an embrace in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 21, 1985. Nancy Reagan was remembered in a memorial service Friday before her burial at her husband's presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif. Photo courtesy the White House/Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

"Most importantly, she will once again lay down beside the man who was the love of her life. The one she loved until the end of her days," the junior Ronald Reagan said, choking up with emotion. "They will watch the sun drop over the hills in the west, toward the sea. As night falls, they will look out across the valley. My father will tell her that the lights below are her jewels. The moon and stars will endlessly turn overhead and here they will stay, as they always wished it to be, resting in each other's arms -- only each other's arms -- until the end of time."

The former Nancy Davis married Ronald Reagan in 1952, three years after his divorce from actress Jane Wyman, and was well-known in the former president's inner circle as having a major influence on the administration's policies. In fact, it is believed by many that then-White House chief of staff Donald Regan was effectively forced out of his position in 1987 due to irreconcilable differences with the first lady.

Reagan made perhaps her most famous contribution to her husband's administration in 1982 when she devised an anti-drug campaign in which she encouraged young people to "just say no."

Unlike some first couples in American history, the Reagans regularly portrayed their union as one heavy on love and compassion -- characteristics they exhibited publicly on numerous occasions, but perhaps most notably during and after the March 30, 1981, assassination attempt, just 69 days into Reagan's first term.

After she was informed of the shooting that afternoon, the first lady rejected Secret Service orders to remain at the White House while the president was being taken to George Washington Memorial Hospital. Agents finally drove her to the hospital's emergency room only after she threatened to walk there herself.

The shooting, which Nancy Reagan emphatically told Secret Service agents would never happen again, helped solidify her status as her husband's primary caretaker and chief "protector."

Former first lady Nancy Reagan says goodbye to her husband, former president Ronald Reagan, at a memorial service for the former commander in-chief at his presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., June 11, 2004. Photo courtesy United States Navy

Nancy Reagan further exemplified the role five years after leaving the White House, when the former president was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. In an iconic moment at his funeral a decade later, she concluded the ceremony by kneeling down to kiss his casket and tearfully said, "I love you" before it was lowered.

So it likely came as no surprise Friday that Nancy's funeral included a love letter from her husband, dated Christmas Day 1981, which was read by former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney -- the man who delivered the president's eulogy in 2004.

In the sentimental note, President Reagan professed his love and appreciation for several "women" in his life -- each one, as the letter ultimately revealed, a different side of Nancy Reagan.

"There is of course my 'First Lady.' She brings so much grace and charm to whatever she does that even stuffy, formal functions sparkle and turn into fun times," his letter read.

"I'm also crazy about the girl who goes to the ranch with me. If we're tidying up the woods, she's a peewee power house at pushing over dead trees. She's a wonderful person to sit by the fire with, or to ride with or first to be with when the sun goes down or the stars come out.

"Then there is a sentimental lady I love whose eyes fill up so easily. On the other hand she loves to laugh and her laugh is like tinkling bells. I hear those bells and feel good all over even if I tell a joke she's heard before.

"Fortunately, all these women in my life are you -- fortunately for me that is, for there could be no life for me without you."

Reagan, who opened the letter "Dear Mrs. R," signed it, "Lucky me." Before the sign-off, though, the former president stated his desire to always be at Nancy Reagan's side -- writing that he can't even sleep at night if she's not there.

"So please always be there," he wrote.

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