Candid, moving and insightful, Nancy is the most personal look at Nancy Davis Reagan ever published.
She was the daughter of a single mother. She was a Hollywood movie star. She is the wife of one of the greatest presidents of the twentieth century. She is a cancer survivor. And now she wages her greatest, unwinnable battle -- against her husband's Alzheimer's disease. Nancy Davis Reagan has led an extraordinary life. In Nancy, Mike Deaver, whose relationship with Mrs. Reagan dates back to the 1960s, shares the side of Nancy that only her intimates know.
The Nancy Reagan with whom most Americans are familiar is a caricature shaped by consistently negative press coverage. But the Nancy Reagan Deaver has come to know for over thirty-five years, the woman portrayed in Nancy, is far more complicated. Nancy has been no bit player in the Reagan story. Deaver believes that Ronald Reagan would not have risen to such distinction without Nancy at his side.
To Ronald Reagan, Nancy gave the gift of her unrestricted love. She was his respite, his comfort, his reward at the end of the day. Now, to a man no longer capable of looking after himself, Nancy is everything there is to be: caretaker, guardian, nurturer of the Reagan legacy.
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February 16, 2004
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Excerpt from Nancy by Michael K. Deaver
The Early Years
Like so much else of my own history, the story of how I first came to know Nancy Reagan begins with her husband. In November 1966, Ronald Reagan delivered a body blow to the national political establishment when he was elected governor of California. His opponent, two-term Democratic incumbent Pat Brown, dismissed Reagan as a fading matinee idol turned political novice. East Coast liberals ridiculed him as a knee-jerk Goldwaterite and corporate pitchman. To a greater or lesser degree, Reagan was all those things, but his detractors missed the critical element: Ronald Reagan talked to voters in an idiom they could understand about issues that resonated deeply across the political spectrum. When the dust settled, the ex-actor had trounced the consummate politician, showing Pat Brown the door by a million votes.
The 1966 elections were good to me, too. I had been over-seeing three state assembly races in coastal California for Republican candidates and had managed to bring home two winners, thanks in part to Reagan's surprising coattails. But I hadn't climbed on the new governor's bandwagon early on when it counted, and even after the campaign was over, I still didn't know much about Ronald Reagan and even less about California's new first lady, Nancy.
Unlike most GOP field men who had been working the state that year, I also had little interest in joining the governor-elect's team in the capital city. I was living in Santa Barbara, with its Mediterranean climate, inviting beaches, and tile-roofed homes. I couldn't imagine giving that up for Sacramento, a sweltering valley town like Bakersfield, California, where I was born. For my money, Santa Barbara was heaven on earth. Sacramento was close to its opposite.
I also liked my work. I had become fixated with the power of advertising and creative direct mail in political races, and I had been able to field-test both -- to great success -- in the campaigns I had just managed. My immediate strategy was to join a small advertising firm in Santa Barbara, where I could continue to refine my techniques. From there, I liked to imagine a career path that ascended to the top of the ad industry.
A few weeks later, I took a call from Reagan's new hand-picked chairman of the state Republican Party, Denny Carpenter, and put my plans for becoming Mr. Madison Avenue on temporary hold. Denny told me I was needed up north. Specifically, I was to report ASAP to William P. Clark, one of the chiefs of Reagan's transition team. I don't know why I got the call -- presumably my old friend and political guru Stu Spencer had put them on to me. But there I was, Bill Clark's number two man overnight.
The transition team gave me a fascinating look inside state government. I was meeting great people and adding muscle to an otherwise fairly puny resume. But I was also a short-timer. Chances were, I would retreat back to Santa Barbara without ever meeting California's new first couple, much less saying an intelligible word to either one of them. And that's almost the way things worked out.
On January 3, 1967, I watched as Ronald Reagan raised his right hand and took the oath of office. Nancy, of course, was at his side. The hour was late. Irked by the unseemly blitz of judicial and commission appointments that Pat Brown was doling out to his friends, Reagan asked to be sworn in at the "earliest possible moment." That earliest possible moment came at 12:14 A.M. Despite the hour, many of the Reagan campaign people were jubilant, to the point of welling up. They were finally seeing the fruits of a most difficult, unexpected journey.
I would see that same jubilation again in 1980, in Washington, not Sacramento, and from a much better seat. This time, though, I was in the peanut gallery -- a transition staffer with neither the history nor the political juice to command a choice vantage point. Still, even watching from a distance, I found myself wondering if I would ever be involved in a cause so great that it would make me as emotional as those young staffers.
The next morning, still thinking about commitment, the Reagans, and Santa Barbara, I walked into my office ready to say good-bye. The transition was done; it was time to start governing. An hour or so later, Bill Clark asked if I would stick around and be his assistant in the cabinet affairs office. With little thought, I found myself saying yes. Sunny Santa Barbara suddenly seemed very far away.