Recently, Americans have mourned and remembered one of our most beloved First Ladies, Nancy Reagan. One of my favorite stories came from Kirk Douglas, the classic Hollywood actor and father of Michael Douglas. When I saw he had written a remembrance of his longtime friend Nancy Reagan, I perked up. Kirk Douglas has been one of THOSE very outspoken Hollywood liberal Democrats for decades.
So when I started reading the story, I figured it’d be from the early days when Ronald Reagan was a Democrat. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The best part of the story is when Kirk Douglas talks about Nancy kicking his son out of her house.
I am a registered Democrat, but Anne and I first became close to the Reagans when our children were classmates at the Thomas Dye School. My wife and Nancy were in the same carpool. Ron, Jr. and our son Eric were the kind of pals who played together after school and spent weekends at each other’s homes.
One day, Anne got a jolting call from Nancy. She said, “Come pick up this boy at once.” We couldn’t imagine what Eric had done wrong. Nancy explained. Our son had seen a Goldwater bumper sticker on their family car and yelled “BOO Goldwater” — a sentiment I confess he picked up from me. She had zero tolerance for such behavior.
Throughout their long friendship, Anne and Nancy had regular lunch dates, a custom that moved from the Bel Air Hotel to 668 St. Cloud this last year. When her dear friend, Merv Griffin, was alive, we would all dine regularly, providing the laughter Nancy so much treasured as the President’s Alzheimer’s progressed.
How hilarious is that?! Many people may not realize that Ronald Reagan actually got his national political jumpstart by giving a speech in 1964 on behalf of Barry Goldwater. So it’s no surprise that the principled Nancy wouldn’t allow such behavior at her house.
But even more encouraging is how she modeled civility and friendship across party lines. We would all do well to take lessons from her friendship with Kirk Douglas and many others, especially in this politically charged era where everyone seems to hate everyone for every reason.
It seems that even as Nancy became First Lady, she also softened over the years. Kirk Douglas recalls a visit to the White House shortly after the assassination attempt on President Reagan.
Shortly after the assassination attempt, I was at the White House for an American Cancer Society ceremony. Nancy asked me to stay and have coffee with her. She knew I had supported Jimmy Carter in her husband’s first Presidential campaign, but she was no longer the uncompromising person who had ejected my son from her house.
“How are you coping?” I asked her. Nancy had kept such a brave face before the public. “Oh, Kirk, she replied, “it’s something you live with all the time.”
Nancy Reagan realized there were more important things than politics. And it left an impact on Douglas. It seems her joy, friendship, service, life, and faith leave Douglas wanting to embrace the Christian faith as well:
I know Nancy believed strongly in an afterlife where she would be reunited with Ronnie. I want to believe it’s true, if only because that’s what I hope for Anne and me. In my imagined paradise, I can envision Nancy in the President’s arms, dancing in perfect harmony.
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