Copy-Nancy Reagan dead at 94

(RNN) - Former first lady Nancy Reagan has died, according to The Reagan Foundation. She was 94.

Born Anne Frances Robbins on July 6, 1921, she was given the nickname "Nancy" by her mother as a child.

Her father left the family when Nancy was young and was only occasionally present in her life. Her mother Edith Robbins toured the country as an actress, a trade that would later lure Nancy into its grip.

While her mother was on the road, Nancy lived with an aunt and uncle.  Robbins, deciding that traveling shows weren't the healthiest of upbringings for a child, entrusted care of young Nancy to her sister and brother-in-law.

Criss-crossing the country, performing in town after town, Robbins would befriend many of the actors and actresses who would later become the defining entertainers of their day, including Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

While traveling and performing shows, Robbins met and married Dr. Loyal Davis and eventually gave up the road for good.  Nancy moved to Chicago to live with her mother and Davis.

Davis would, in time, become the father figure missing from her life emotionally and later legally. When she was 16, she requested Davis adopt her and for her name to be changed, officially becoming Nancy Davis.

Meanwhile, the theater that was so close to her mother's heart began to woo her as well.

In a foretelling of her future, while in high school, Davis was cast as the lead in the play First Lady as the wife of a presidential candidate who goes on to win the election. She would declare drama as her college major and, after graduation, join a traveling production just like her mother had so many years before.

Davis moved to New York in 1945 to pursue her stage dreams, where she landed roles in Lute Song and The Late Christopher Bean. But eventually Hollywood came calling. She signed a contract with MGM and began a whirlwind work schedule that included 11 movies between 1949 and 1957.

During that time, she would meet the love of her life in movie script-like fashion.  When Davis' name was erroneously published in The Hollywood Reporter paper as a suspected Communist sympathizer in 1949, she met with Screen Actors Guild President Ronald Reagan to discuss the problem. Reagan assured her there were several actresses by the name of Nancy Davis, but she wasn't satisfied.

The two met for dinner at the suggestion of a mutual friend and hit it off.

Reagan writes in her book " I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan,"

"He called me that same day and asked me to go to dinner.  'It'll have to be early though,' he said. 'I have an early call.'

I said 'Yes, I have an early call, too.' I didn't - and he didn't - but we wanted to protect ourselves.'"

By the end of the night, both acknowledged their "early calls" had been a ruse.

After two years of dating, the pair tied the knot and settled into married life. With her new-found role as wife also came the role as step mother to Ronald Reagan's children from a previous marriage, Michael and Maureen.

She would give birth to two children of her own, Patti in 1952 and Ron in 1958.

She reluctantly stepped out from the shadows into the spotlight, campaigning for her husband when he ran for governor of California in 1966.

When he won, she often used her platform as first lady to raise awareness for causes close to her heart, visiting wounded Vietnam veterans and working with the Foster Grandparents program to match needy kids to elderly people. She also felt a growing urgency to confront the problem of drugs growing among young people.

This would later lead to perhaps Reagan's most famous catch phrase "Just Say No," which became an all-encompassing anti-drug campaign in the 1980s during her husband's presidency.

"Many of the interests I eventually pursued when Ronnie became president started then - the seeds were planted," she wrote in "I Love Ronnie."  (95)

When Reagan's second gubernatorial term ended in 1975 and the presidency seemed the next logical step, she wrote "we didn't agonize over whether or not Ronnie should run. Quickly enough, it just became obvious that running for p resident was what Ronnie was going to do and that I was going to support him."

Gerald Ford would win the Republican nomination in 1976.

Four years later, their campaigning would pay off. Reagan would go on to win the Republican nomination and the presidency.

As First Lady, Nancy Reagan spearheaded an effort aimed at renovating the White House, raising private donations to pay for major overhauls of the second and their floors.

Before the work was done, only two months into the presidency, an assassination attempt would rock the White House and the nation, when a gunman shot President Ronald Reagan and three others.

She stood by Ronald' Reagan's  bedside at the hospital and cared for him when he returned to the White House, but the incident forever shook Nancy Reagan's sense of security, especially when it came to her husband.

"In those two seconds Ronnie came within an inch of death and I came within an inch of losing the man I love. I now understood that each new day was a gift to be treasured, and that I had to be more involved in seeing that my husband was protected in every possible way, "she wrote in "My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan."

A few months later, as President Reagan continued to recover, she served as the United States' representative at the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

As she did in California, Nancy Reagan continued to use her platform as first lady to raise awareness about the dangers of drugs.  The platform would become synonymous with her during a visit with school children Oakland, CA when a girl raised her hand and asked "What do you do if someone offers you drugs?" Reagan replied "You just say no." A slogan was born and "Just Say No" clubs cropped up across the country.

Whether Reagan's influence can be credited or not, by 1987, cocaine use among high school seniors dropped to its lowest level in a decade, according to the Reagan Presidential Foundation.

Nancy Reagan would be diagnosed with breast cancer in Oct, 1987 and lose her mother only a few short days after undergoing a mastectomy.  Still recovering from her surgery, she attended her mother's funeral, accompanied by a doctor who would keep close watch on her.

In 1989, the Reagans would pack up their lives and leave Washington, welcoming Vice President George H.W. Bush as the next president of the United States.

They'd return to California and begin work on the Reagan Presidential Library, which was dedicated in 1991.

In 1994, Nancy Reagan would become a crusader for another cause upon her husband's diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

An advocate for stem-cell research that she believed could someday help patients suffering from Alzheimer's, she often found herself at odds with other members of the Republican party and pro-life advocates who believe destroying human embryos is tantamount to destroying human life.

She would serve as Ronald Reagan's caregiver until his death in 2004.

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