July 6, 1921-March 6, 2016
Nancy Davis Reagan was First Lady of the United States during her husband Ronald Reagan’s successive terms in office from 1981-1989. Having already publicly served as First Lady of the State of California from 1967-1975 when her husband served as Governor; Mrs. Reagan’s first foray into activism was to champion the Foster Grandparents program which brings together senior citizens and disadvantaged children. As FLOTUS, she expanded the program at the national level and promoted private funding in local communities. By 1985, approximately 19,000 foster grandparents served some 65,000 children through 245 projects in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Criticized for the White House’s perceived slow acknowledgement and non-response to the exploding AIDS epidemic; the President did not say the word “Aids” in public until his second term in office and nearly seven years passed before he gave a speech on a health crisis that would go on to kill more than 650,000 Americans and stigmatize even more. Mrs. Reagan turned her back on their Hollywood friend, Rock Hudson, when she denied his personal plea for help as he attempted to obtain specialized treatment in Paris with drugs not yet available in the United States. He passed nine weeks after his plea in 1985 and was the first high-profile celebrity to die from the disease while in the American public’s eye. The Reagans and their administration held the belief that AIDS was not an infectious disease but rather a “legal problem” as gay men with AIDS and who their sexual partners were “breaking the law”. Not to mention intravenous drug abusers.
“Just Say No” is a slogan created by Mrs. Reagan as part of the War on Drugs; she targeted children and teens and attempted to discourage their use of recreational drugs by offering a variety of ways to say “no”. From 1981-1985 thousands of “Just Say No” clubs were formed across the United States and Britain. While the campaign increased public awareness of drug use, the direct relationship of reduced drug use and the campaign cannot be accurately measured. Critics of the Just Say No effort fault the program as it focused on the perception that drug and alcohol abuse were social maladies and too simplistic rather than an actual disease. However, the Nancy Reagan Foundation endures with several Just Say No clubs and after school programs still in existence today.
President and Mrs. Reagan announced to the world that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease near the end of 1994. Famously devoted to her “Ronnie” she spent most of the next ten years in seclusion at her husband’s side caring for him in their Bel Air home until his death in 2004. In 2001 Nancy urged President George W Bush to support federally funded embryonic stem cell research, a stance perceived by many to be the Democratic Party’s position, in the hope that this science could lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease in addition to Juvenile Diabetes and other afflictions. The Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute, an affiliate of the National Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, Illinois continues its mission to accelerate the progress of Alzheimer’s disease research.