Former first lady Nancy Reagan died Sunday at the age of 94. The elegant, famously adoring wife off Ronald Reagan is being remembered by political figures and everyday Americans for her character, her advocacy work and her unflagging support for her husband — as well as, in some cases, for more controversial elements of her legacy.
Here’s a sample from the tributes released in the world of politics:
Former president George W. Bush:
“Mrs. Reagan was fiercely loyal to her beloved husband, and that devotion was matched only by her devotion to our country. Her influence on the White House was complete and lasting.”
Former president Bill Clinton and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton:
“Nancy was an extraordinary woman: a gracious First Lady, proud mother, and devoted wife to President Reagan—her Ronnie. Her strength of character was legendary, particularly when tested by the attempted assassination of the President, and throughout his battle with Alzheimer’s. She leaves a remarkable legacy of good that includes her tireless advocacy for Alzheimer’s research and the Foster Grandparent Program.”
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama:
“Nancy Reagan once wrote that nothing could prepare you for living in the White House. She was right, of course. But we had a head start, because we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example, and her warm and generous advice.
“Our former First Lady redefined the role in her time here,” they wrote. ” Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.”
Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee:
“Nancy Reagan embodied what it means to represent America as First Lady and her dignified and warm demeanor inspired America.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
“Ronald Reagan could not have accomplished everything that he did without his wife Nancy. As first lady, she brought a sense of grace and dignity to the White House. She roused the country to redouble the fight against drugs. And she showed us all the meaning of devotion as she cared for President Reagan throughout his long goodbye. She loved her husband, and she loved her country. This was her service. It was her way of giving back. And all of us are very grateful.”
The remaining candidates for the presidency also chimed in, on Twitter or in statements.
“No matter your party or political ideology, this is a sad day for America. Nancy Reagan was an exemplary first lady. A devoted partner, she was her husband’s most trusted advisor and, as such, served our country well. Even after her time in the White House, she was an outspoken advocate for stem-cell research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Nancy Reagan had a good heart, and she will be dearly missed.”
A few people on Twitter — plus one space agency — took the opportunity to share some favorite photos of the first lady.
Not all the responses to her death have been laudatory: some have highlighted a story published last year by Buzzfeed describing how Nancy Reagan turned down a plea for help from Rock Hudson as the star was dying from AIDS. The Advocate, among others, suggested the story raised larger questions about the first lady’s role in the White House’s non-response to the AIDS crisis.
But more tributes were positive, focusing on Reagan’s character. Many highlighted the love between Nancy and Ronald Reagan.
NPR’s Sam Sanders posted a letter from Ronald Reagan to his wife, sent before their 20th anniversary. In it, the president wrote that they couldn’t possibly have been married so long:
“20 minutes maybe — but never 20 years. In the first place it is a known fact that a human cannot sustain the high level of happiness I feel for more than a few minutes — and my happiness keeps increasing.
“I will confess to one puzzlement but I’m sure it is just some trick perpetrated by our friends — (Ha again!) I can’t remember ever being without you and I know I was born more than 20 mins ago.”
Reagan’s stepson, Michael Reagan, wrote that “she is once again with the man she loved” — a sentiment echoed by many on Twitter.