Former First Lady Nancy Reagan Leaves Behind a Lesson in Love, Life & Having it All

Nancy Reagan, Women's History MonthFormer First Lady Nancy Reagan died this past Sunday at the age of 94. She is mourned by many -- those who knew her well, as well as those who were influenced by her -- and for good reason. Mrs. Reagan was a force to be reckoned with in the best ways possible ... and she is an important figure to praise and honor this Women's History Month.


Nancy Davis was an actress in 1951 when she met the man who would make her a future First Lady. Or perhaps more accurately, she met the man she would help propel into the presidency. She referred to the handsome actor (who was the president of the Screen Actors Guild at the time) as her Ronnie, and said on multiple occasions, "My life really began when I married my husband."

What a life she lived.

Who She Was

Nancy Reagan was the First Lady from 1981 to 1990, when her husband, Ronald Reagan, served as the president of the United States. In many ways she brought the role into the modern era, becoming a fierce political advocate for her husband and championing her own causes. Maybe you've heard of the "Just Say No" campaign used in schools to keep kids off drugs? That was her.

She was also a wife, a mom, a stepmom, an independent yet devoted matriarch, and a fun-loving woman who was not afraid to make waves.

Upon her death, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama praised the way she influenced modern life for the president and First Lady. In a statement, they wrote, "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."

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How She Shaped History

Mrs. Reagan became a household name in an era when women were flocking back to the workforce and beginning to smash glass ceilings. She showed that you could be a wife and mother, yet also have an identity outside of the home.

When Ronald decided to enter politics, she was right there with him, campaigning both by his side and independently, for the California Governor's Mansion and then the White House. She had thoughts and opinions about everything, and was vocal about not always agreeing with her husband. She even remarked that she made "no apologies for telling Ronnie what I thought."

As California's First Lady in the '60s, she advocated for Vietnam veterans and championed the Foster Grandparents program, which she later took to a national level in the White House. The initiative paired senior citizens with special-needs children, to form mutually beneficial relationships.

She was a tireless advocate for those in need, never hesitated to lend a helping hand or give voice to a project she thought was worthwhile, and obviously had a soft spot for helping children.

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Her Words to Live By

Nancy Reagan was definitely Ronald Reagan's biggest fan, but she never let that take away from her independent spirit. One of my favorite quotes from her defines what feminism means to me, and is an awesome reminder of the hard-won freedoms that our foremothers fought for. Without them, we wouldn't be able to vote, own property, attend university, or, heck -- even wear pants.

Feminism is the ability to choose what you want to do.

Another quote I love is one I try to live out every day, even when things seem like they've been so crappy for so long that they will never get better. Even if all you learn from the bad days is to appreciate the good, then at least it had a purpose in shaping your life and your attitude.

You learn something out of everything, and you come to realize more than ever that we're all here for a certain space of time, and, and then it's going to be over, and you better make this count.

Why She Inspired Me

Nancy Reagan made no apologies for who she was. She was a fierce protector of her husband, and no shrinking violet. She was a woman who got things done. Before they went into politics, Ronald's acting career was waning, so she took roles in low-budget movies because, as she said, they "needed the money."

Much later, in their golden years, she didn't even let her devoted husband's Alzheimer's get her down. Instead, she spent the last 10 years of his life fiercely advocating for more and better research to be done on the disease. She even supported stem cell research, a policy that some pundits believed her husband would not have been on board with. Not that that stopped her -- she held firmly to her convictions.

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Most inspiring about this incredible woman isn't just how much she accomplished, but also how much fun she had doing it. The Reagans brought booze back to the White House, and introduced jelly beans to the Oval Office. She consulted astrologists. She was compared to Jackie O. for her sense of fashion and style. She even sat on Mr. T's lap, for Pete's sake!

She is someone who loved life, her husband, her family, and her place in the world. There's nothing more inspiring to me than that -- no matter what you're doing.


Image via Wally McNamee/Corbis

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