Remembering the Life of Former First Lady Nancy Reagan

Few First Ladies understood the power of PR better than Nancy Reagan.

A woman who told anyone she knew on her first date with then-actor Ronald Reagan that she would marry him, Nancy Reagan set something in motion on that blind date — her confidence and trust for the man who would be President.

That was 1951. As many know, they were married until President Reagan’s death in 2004.

She died of congestive heart failure on Sunday morning, and while many politicians and other notables in D.C. mourn her loss, many more Americans remember her by three simple but profound words: “Just Say No.”

While that plight became a rallying cry against drug use among children, Nancy had another crusade she tackled before that — her own image. Believe it or not, this woman — who would become beloved by foreign heads-of-state and renowned by domestic counterparts as the gatekeeper to the Oval Office — had an image problem when she first got to the White House.

nancy reagan fashion
Photos from left: Diana Walker / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images; Corbis; Frank Trapper / Sygma / Corbis

It was their first year in office and Nancy Reagan decided to completely change the decór of the White House, as well as the functions within it.

She wasn’t hoity-toity; she only wanted the best for “her Ronnie.” The public (and the press) were borderline nasty about it.

Although she didn’t really care about the criticism against her, Reagan was an extreme loyalist to her husband, so she did care about how those low approval ratings hurt her his image.

Nancy Reagan very much believed in pomp and circumstance, but also began to push policies herself. From the “Brady Law” to “Just Say No” (which is now known nationwide as D.A.R.E.), Nancy Reagan became a reflection of the people that loved her and supported her around the world.

And, much to the pleasure of PR pros everywhere, she stuck to her talking points and never turned back.

Nancy Reagan once said, “A woman is like a tea bag, you can not tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Our clients could only pray to be so fortunate to dip their toe in those waters.

A woman who arrived in politics from Hollywood never followed in her husband’s footsteps. She was by his side from Hollywood to Sacramento to Washington D.C. — a role for which she will always be remembered.

Image is crucial to everyone, and she showed all first ladies of the future — national and state — how it should be done.